Getting Dead in Canada

In the time since I filed my last column from up here in the Arctic wastes, “physician-assisted dying” has been legalized by a unanimous decision of the Canadian Supreme Court. The decision reversed the Court’s own hard-reasoned position, upholding the law in 1993. It is stayed for one year to allow our Parliament a legislative response. This actually makes things worse.

The only remaining live question is whether there will be any restrictions at all on euthanasia, and the likely answer is no.

In 1988, our Supreme Court vacated certain restrictions on abortion that had been retained in the extremely liberal 1969 abortion law of the then Trudeau government. Parliament was given an opportunity to rewrite that, consistent with the “Charter of Rights” that another Trudeau government had bequeathed the country – as interpreted by an activist Court.

The politicians ducked. The Mulroney government (“Progressive Conservative”) tried and failed to find a consensus, and then gave up. The result was abortion-on-demand, from conception to live birth, at the expense of the taxpayer, with priority for abortions over all other medical “needs” in the country’s monopoly health care system.

The politicians are very likely to duck again – not only from their own cowardice in tackling a controversial issue, but because the Supreme Court’s ruling is infinitely extendable. The “right to physician-assisted suicide,” which they have now discovered in that same Charter, by a process of reasoning that I would characterize as insane, is sufficiently abstract to pass through any barrier.

It must now be made available for free to any “competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition” – a wad of vague terms, none of which the Court even tried to define.

Should anyone bring a hard case that manages to fall outside these parameters – child with painful condition, for instance; slick power-of-attorney with unwanted granny – the judges will then extend their permission, by the same open “reasoning”; as they and we know perfectly well. There can be no backstop, once a new “human right” is invented.

Yet in truth, euthanasia is already common in our hospitals and nursing homes, even without legal sanction. And of course the cases are not reported, in Canada any more than in Holland, where doctors of death are found still traveling under the radar despite the world’s most liberal euthanasia regime. Their excuse being: who needs the paperwork?

The Canadian ruling on “physician-assisted dying” merely turns an unofficial open season into a publicly-declared open season on the old, the frail, the disabled, the depressed, the mentally afflicted, the terminally ill – just when the welfare state is running out of money to keep them.

Support for what I’d instead call “death on demand” is overwhelming, according to polls in Canada, and also in the States. And we should all know the root cause: because North American society has been de-Christianized.

Cold-hearted "justice" in Canada.
Cold-hearted “justice” in Canada.

Since the 1960s, public opinion has been further transformed by the systematic dulling of the law’s sharp edges. Where there is even debate, the grounds are no longer principle but “feeling.” Even opposition to euthanasia, such as it is, now tends to be expressed in terms of, “but it is icky.” This is because the opponents themselves know that “wrong” and “evil” aren’t counters any more.

Suicide was decriminalized in Canada by a Trudeau government in 1972. Even then, people had trouble remembering why it might ever have been against the law: the dead being hard to prosecute. Yet there was an unanswerable argument.

The whole point of law, in our Western, once explicitly Christian tradition, was to vindicate the sanctity of human life, and all things justly pertaining to it. “Thou shalt not murder” applied not to some, but to every single human being. So that, if gentle reader is a human being, he may not even murder himself.

A child in its mother’s womb counted, until the same era. Murder a pregnant woman and you were facing two counts. You might still, in theory, in some slow-moving jurisdictions; but not in fast-moving places like Canada.

The courts were once capable of upholding all “restrictions” on murder because they understood that the law was absolute. Once an exception is admitted, there will be no end of exceptions, and we are on the slide to Hell. Extenuating circumstances could be acknowledged in special cases, but the principle was not negotiable.

In the 1993 majority decision of the Canadian Supreme Court upholding the law against assisted suicide, this tradition was recalled. Writing for the majority, the late puisne (you can look it up) justice John Sopinka reviewed the deep history at length, with subtlety and gravitas. His generation of lawyers is gone, and the new ones don’t fuss the details, as our latest judgment made obvious, overturning everything Sopinka had written in a single short, flip, sophistical paragraph.

Nor were our current justices in the least bothered to think through the consequences of their decision when, for instance, the life of every nursing home and palliative care facility in Canada is turned upside down. Monsters of self-regard, they are above such administrative considerations. (See my Essays in Idleness blog, since 6 February, for half-a-dozen longish posts on this.)

And yet we still have suicide prevention call lines, and emergency staff in hospitals trying to save the lives of people whose desire to be dead has been manifested in a suicide attempt – artifacts of the old Christian order.

To the post-Christian mind, life itself has no innate value, and the very idea of moral absolutes is incomprehensible. Only by the recovery of Christianity could they become comprehensible again. Absent that, and we enter the Glib New World, of the People’s Democratic Republic of Relativism.

One thing is sure: you wouldn’t want to live there.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: