Assisted Suicide and Pandora’s Box by Craig Carter Edwards – June 25, 2012

“All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.”
– Gandalf, Lord of the Rings


CFN – B.C Supreme Justice Lynn Smith has ruled that assisted suicide is legal.  In her ruling, Smith argues existing provisions in the Criminal Code that make assisted suicide illegal are an infringement against an individual’s rights to life, liberty and security of person.  In her view, right to life seems to include right to death; liberty includes the ability to impose the ultimate limitation on oneself and security includes the ability to permanently protect oneself against pain.

If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m not in favour.

There are plenty of arguments being made around the morality of assisted suicide and the Pandora’s Box we’ve opened  when we see death as just another treatment option (and in today’s reality of unsustainable healthcare costs, a less expensive one at that).  Of course, the defense of assisted suicide goes beyond financial savings, spilling out onto compassionate grounds and the issue of civil liberties.  If people don’t want to keep suffering, or if their families don’t want to see them carry on in unending pain, shouldn’t they have the right to put an end to it all?

Let’s consider the issue from a different angle.  As the Hippocratic Oath demands that doctors do no harm, let’s think about what happens when preemptive death isn’t an option.  If assisted suicide isn’t on the table, what then?  When jumping the gun on death isn’t a way out, we’re faced with the reality of confronting illness and its impact on both the sick and their social circles.  Illness is more than just a personal, biological affliction; unless you’re a hermit, illness is a social cross that gets borne by everyone.  From first-hand experience, I can tell you that living with illness is a brutal business for all concerned – the afflicted individual, their family and their community.

My father-in-law died from complications after a long, painful battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a disease that slowly deteriorated his body and put unsustainable stress on his family.  When the father was at home, they never knew for how long it was for.  When he was in the hospital, they were never sure he would be coming home.  Despite all the uncertainty and the strains on their own lives, my wife, her sisters and their mom were always there for him, visiting him in hospital every day, making sure their father knew he still mattered.  Yes, there were days when the pain was too much, when they wished it would end.  It was on days like that my wife and her family were grateful for the support they received from neighbours, friends and family; cutting the lawn, occasionally fixing meals or just listening, but doing whatever they could to support the family so that they could, in turn, support their father.

The doctors never expected my father-in-law to last as long as he did, but then he was a strong man.  Much of that strength was drawn from those who supported him.  The stress that his family endured took such a toll that they still feel its effects acutely today, more than ten years after his death.  It should come as no surprise that we all donate annually to cancer research; we are committed to supporting the search for a cure to cancer so that, one day, no family will have to go through the same thing.

That, essentially, is the history of medicine.  There was a time when smallpox was a serious concern; now, after a global effort, it’s believed to be a thing of the past.  Families used to suffer the loss of loved ones to measles, mumps and rubella; all illnesses for which we now have a vaccine.  More broadly, we can look at physical conditions like blindness, limb loss, asthma or mental illness as challenges that have made life arduous but that collaboratively, we are finding answers to.  The Hippocratic Oath challenges doctors to find alternatives – not to end problems, but to create solutions.

There’s a Joss Whedon line (paraphrased from a Martin Luther King JR. quote) that comes to mind whenever I think about medicine and social services in general:

“If you can’t run, you walk.  If you can’t walk, you crawl.  If you can’t crawl, you find someone to carry you.”

But what if no one is there to carry you?  Here’s another story:

A woman in her eighties is living in a senior’s home.  She has severe emphysema, a condition she developed after years of smoking.  She picked up the habit in her youth because advertising told her it was the cool thing to do.  As a result of the emphysema, this woman is now limited to a wheelchair – for her, the whole world has shrunk.  Everything from breathing, leaving her room, even eating has become a chore.  Her family doesn’t visit much – they would love to, surely, but they’re just so busy.  The boss only allows so much time off for family care, because he, too, has a bottom line to manage.

Recently, this woman was rushed to hospital, shrinking her world even further.  With everything a chore and nothing to live for, you can bet death is on this woman’s mind.  In fact, you could even say she is in a state of depression.  This lady’s kids worry about her from afar, hoping she gets better and confidently telling themselves she has the best possible care.  They tell themselves this while they’re taking a well-deserved vacation in the Europe.  Put the option of assisted suicide on the table for this woman, for her family – what position do you think they would take?  What has made this woman’s life unendurable – her illness, or the inattentiveness of her family?

Here’s another quote you might be familiar with – life is pain.  If you believe in evolution, you accept the notion of survival of the fittest, which thereby defines life as a perpetual competition to eliminate the weak through tests of endurance.  Sports, job competitions, war are all designed around this theme; if you make the cut, you’re in; you’re seen as weak or a threat, you’re out.  Before there was treatment for leprosy, there were leper colonies.  Before we understood that mental illness was a biological condition that could be treated and accommodated, there were insane asylums or in some cases, the stake.

Yet, we have developed treatment for leprosy, haven’t we?  We have developed things like prosthetic limbs, glasses, asthma pumps, chemotherapy.  There’s a great big push out there for a culture change in the way we understand mental health, including how our personal behaviours impact the state of mind of others.  None of this stuff has happened over night; it’s taken generations of collaborative effort, often on pieces of a bigger puzzle that will not be completed for generations, much less within a given contributor’s lifetime.  We might not cure cancer tomorrow, but if we give up on those who suffer from cancer today, we never will.

Call me stubborn, if you will – I’d take that as a compliment and attribute my stoicism to the good genes of my grandfather who survived the Holocaust.  My experience has demonstrated, time and again, that there is no gain – no progress – without pain.  If we’re not part of the problem, we have the chance to be part of the solution.   I believe in the value of individual sacrifice for the public good; be it donating blood, giving to a charity or not using your air conditioner excessively.  Giving back is a choice I have made; we all have to decide what to do with the time that is given us.

Putting assisted suicide on the table as a treatment option for illness is just one facet of an emerging public conversation about death.  Capital punishment is being revisited, too, partially in response to a recent, horrific murder.  All of this focus on death and endings will force us to reevaluate just how much and in which ways we value life.  The lid is off Pandora’s Box, indeed.  And what was it that was left inside that box?


Craig Carter Edwards

Born and raised in Cornwall, Craig has lived in or travelled to nearly 30 countries and currently resides in North York with his wife and son.  A political veteran, Craig brings a wealth of government, private and not-for-profit sectors experience to his current role as strategy consultant for the social entrepreneurship sector.


  1. My opinion is that God gives us life & that God alone should take it,however,I want to be a DNR,no CPR,no machines,no tubes & just let me die whenever my life as I know has ended.There is worse things than death.
    For most doctors & their insurance companies assisted death would be a rule breaker,Who are they to play God & make decisions to end a life.I can sure understand a person wanting to end their painful existence but that doesn’t make it right.I could see government happy to cut their losses & exterminate many elderly expensive seniors who have worked hard all their life,build up this country in past wars & deserve better respect.
    Imagine a senior with a fear of going to the doctors’

  2. Courts are addressing legality of laws.
    Governments adopt laws.
    Special interest groups influence public opinion towards introducing laws.
    If you want change, follow these instructions in reverse! Others have and are, all it takes is will, time and our money.

  3. Mariah, as soon as God is brought into the discussion, the discussion becomes meaningless. A good proportion of the population does not believe that a god even exists, so that argument just won’t work.

  4. God, fate, or just happens, is not the point. We need to have an ethical, commuinty wide standard that provides some self idenity and control of one’s self with protections under law.

  5. Craig…….interesting indeed. Would we let an animal suffer? Being above all earthly creatures and when there is no more quality of life and absolutely no hope of full recovery, I should have the choice of whether I want to live or end my life. Even with new technology and the drugs we have access today, to be sedated to the point of oblivion and having someone feed and sometimes have to change you can be quite demoralizing. Like a DNR if the patient has lost their mental capacity and the patient is living on life support, the family should be allowed to decide. When a physician says there is no hope and there is nothing more they can do, why prolong the agony for all concerned. In other words the Dr. is saying it is a matter of time. If and when the law does change, it can be stipulated that the Dr. can only perform euthanasia when the patient is terminally ill or their condition prevents them from having and living a normal life. To be only existing is not a life. If we can do away with a lame, sick or suffering animals, I being a superior being to them, I should have the right to decide…….

  6. “I believe in the value of individual sacrifice for the public good;” Craig Carter Edwards

    “The Nazis are well remembered for murdering well over 11 million people in the implementation of their slogan, ‘The public good before the private good,’ the Chinese Communists for murdering 62 million people in the implementation of theirs, ‘Serve the people,’ and the Soviet Communists for murdering more than 60 million people in the implementation of Karl Marx’s slogan, ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’ Anyone who defends any of these, or any variation of them, on the grounds of their ‘good intentions’ is an immoral (NOT ‘amoral’) enabler of the ACTUAL (not just the proverbial) road to hell.” — Rick Gaber

    “Totalitarianism is collectivism. Collectivism means the subjugation of the individual to a group — whether to a race, class or state does not matter. Collectivism holds that man must be chained to collective action and collective thought for the sake of what is called `the common good.´ Throughout history, no tyrant ever rose to power except on the claim of representing `the common good.´ Napoleon `served the common good´ of France. Hitler [was] `serving the common good´ of Germany. Horrors which no man would dare consider for his own selfish sake are perpetrated with a clear conscience by `altruists´ who justify themselves by — the common good.” — Ayn Rand

    I don’t believe in sacrificing my property, my liberty and my life for the common good but I might sacrifice my life, my liberty and my property for another individual under my own consent. Only tyrants will force us to consent ourselves to their wars for our common good.

  7. Stella,

    Thanks for the comments. I don’t pretend to have THE answer, but hopefully I can contribute to the discussion. We do euthanize sick animals; at the same time, how much effort do we make to treating animal sickness? If we didn’t have the option to euthanize suffering pets, would we spend more time/resources in finding treatments for them? Considering the price of healthcare, would that even be an affordable option? With that in mind, would people with less resources (and less healthcare access) turn to euthanasia earlier than though with access, and if so, what would the social consequences be? It’s at least worth thinking about.


    I try to be careful in my wording, but if I wasn’t careful enough, I’ll try again: I personally believe in contributing to the public good. I also believe in doing the right thing, whether others do the same or not. That’s my personal choice, the example I choose to set. What others do is their choice, not mine, but I would hope everyone keeps the tragedy of the commons in mind with the actions they take.

    Interesting choice, to quote Ayn Rand. Tell me: what are your thoughts on whether francophones should have to speak English to access public services like healthcare?

  8. It certainly is a complex and sobering issue that hasn’t had nearly enough public discussion. Some will argue that with proper palliative care, the end of life can be made almost pain and stress free in most cases. The problem with that argument is that palliative care in Canada is woefully underfunded and not available to most people. I think it comes down to the fact that most people who are facing a prolonged and painful death should have the right to choose when they die.

  9. Writing stories to read ones own type is an unusual vocation. This fellow certainly has a great impression of himself and can let the reader know exactly that in many more words than are necessary to make a point. His opinions are only on topics for which there is no objective measurement. The lowest form of communication.

    Congrats on that self-bio. Civil servant. We are all impressed I’m sure. Go write somewhere else.

  10. It’s good that Wow! jumped in and raised the tone of this thread. Well, maybe not.
    I thought there was a moderator.

  11. “What are your thoughts on whether francophones should have to speak English to access public services like healthcare?”

    Why would you even ask that question? Would you ask someone their thoughts on anglophones being denied healthcare because they couldn’t speak French?

    During the current the health care issue in Cornwall no one has ever suggested that option. I have asked time and time again if in the history of the Cornwall health service at either the Cornwall General Hospital or the Hotel Dieu, anyone was ever denied health care or did they received substandard health care because of language. No one can site any incidence.

    The only place where service is denied because of language is the Francophone clinic.

  12. Ed, nor all of his so called general population do not believe in God because they believe they are god! Able to choose what is right and what is wrong. If that were the truth, why is this world all messed up? Ed, you can’t blame it on religion, because, remember there is no God! Where is the peace and unity of secular humanism. I am still waiting. Maybe by the time Hell freezes over such will be the case. By the way Hell will never freeze over, and yes, Ed, you and your general population will still not agree.

    On the Great Day of Judgement, Ed you will know for sure there is a God, in whom you will have to face alone, but it will be to late then.

  13. Wowers, I can see that we’re going to have a lot of fun in this space!

    Looking forward to it. :o)

  14. I lost my father to suicide about forty-five years ago after he was diagnosed with an incurable (at that time) form of cancer, and more recently dealt with the death of my elderly aunt who was in my care. So I do have some thoughts regarding end of life issues and how they are handled in our society. Unfortunately, the administrator of this site seems to agree with Mr. Newton that I consider myself God, and won’t allow me to comment further.

  15. A friend of mine’s uncle was escorted out of the French Clinic because he couldn’t speak French, tell me Craig what are your thoughts?

  16. escorted out???……..OMG give me a break. Was he handcuffed? I can’t believe this…….LOL

  17. rosie maybe your friends uncle did not know there are 3 other walk ins in Cornwall..2 on Pitt st and one on mcconnell..hope you friends uncle feels better

  18. Craig, very interesting article… not an easy subject but a needed discussion nonetheless.. … every time this comes up in the news I think of that little handicapped girl who`s father took matters into his own hands in Saskatchewan…he served 10 years in prison for his actions all because he saw no alternative choice for his long suffering daughter!!NO easy answers eh Craig ? what if there had been access to special laws or life ending decisions??

  19. Les habitants. Maybe you are right, it is possible, I will have to ask.The point remains, he was sick and went in to see a doctor and was as I mentioned before, ESCORTED OUT.
    Stella: I could have posted that statement for you. I knew that was exactly what you would say. Time to start believing what is being posted. Pretty sad but true. Stella you want something to LOL then read this. Jean Lecompte joined the protest group in Winchester and pointed out that “they were all bilingual as it is mandatory to take French classes in school”. Wondering if he also thinks that since it is mandatory to take math classes and science classes, does that make them mathematicians and scientists as well.

  20. It’s mind boggling how this important topic and discussion has been completely shut down. First, Mr. Newton attacked my character with the usual bible quotes. Second, My responses to Mr. Newton’s insults were blocked. And now the thread has been hijacked by the never ending language “freedom-fighters”.
    Looks like end of life issues aren’t taken too seriously around here.

  21. Rosie, For the French clinic – do you have background? If it was a Community Health Hospital and he wasn’t there for an emergency that might have been a factor. CHCs are designed with a heavy component of life-specific advice in mind. Communities with many seniors, for instance, might have CHCs that teach little tricks about getting out of bed at night, diet, etc. Language-specific CHCs are meant to help a language minority navigate services, make sure they understand pharmacy availability, etc and hopefully keep folk out of the hospital system.

    Hope this helps!


  22. Sorry Craig but your spin on this situation doesn’t ring true. If the clinic was in Mandarin or Urdu then I could see the justification but with all the French language requirements in all the other medical services in the area, especially the CCH, there is no need for a French only clinic. Not only is it discriminatory but it is insulting to anglophones by implying that the mere sound of the English language may harm Francophone patients.

  23. Why would one go to a french clinic if they can’t speak french………especially knowing it’s a french clinic? There are three other clinics you can go to. My goodness it’s not complicated….GO TO ANOTHER CLINIC. It’s not like it’s the only clinic in town.

  24. You missed the point Stella. There should not be a French only clinic. It is discriminatory. It is elitist. It is just wrong.

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