Assisted Suicide & Euthanasia

What is Euthanasia?

Euthanasia is the act of intentionally, knowingly and directly causing the death of a patient. If someone other than the person who dies performs the last act, euthanasia has occurred. For example, if a person administers a lethal injection or puts a plastic bag over a patient’s head to suffocate him/her, euthanasia has taken place. Euthanasia is sometimes called aid-in-dying, mercy killing, death with dignity, etc.

What is Assisted Suicide?

Assisted suicide is the act of intentionally, knowingly and directly providing the means of death to another person so that the person can use that means to commit suicide. If the person who dies performs the last act, assisted suicide has occurred.

For example, if a doctor writes a prescription for an intentional overdose of drugs for a patient to use to commit suicide and if the patient who dies performs the last act (the act of swallowing), assisted suicide has taken place.
Assisted-suicide is sometimes called “aid-in-dying,” “death with dignity,” “physician-assisted death,” etc.

We believe that neither consent nor motive changes the reality that both assisted suicide and euthanasia involve killing another human being. Killing the patient should never be the treatment for suffering.

Dr. Paul V. Adams of Manitoba Physicians for Life, describes what many view as the fundamental moral or ethical difference between acts of withholding and withdrawing and acts of euthanasia:

There is an essential difference between causing one to die, which is euthanasia, helping one to die, which would be assisted suicide, and allowing natural death to occur, which I referred to as withholding or withdrawing treatment. Frequently, there is confusion regarding the third category,  that is, allowing natural death to occur when death is inevitable, and there is no clinical or ethical reason to intervene. This is not euthanasia. It is both morally and ethically acceptable and it should continue to be legally acceptable.

Dr. Paul V. Adams of Manitoba Physicians for Life, Witness to the Special Senate Committee, 1995

Advance Directives

An advance directive is a document by which a person makes provisions for health care decisions in the event that, in the future, he/she becomes unable to make those decisions. There are two main types of advance directive – the “Living Will” and the “Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.” There are also combination advance directives which are hybrid documents that combine elements of the Living Will with those of the Durable Power of Attorney. To be valid, an advance directive must comply with the law of the province in which it was signed.

Living Wills

A Living Will is the oldest type of health care advance directive. It is a signed, witnessed (or notarized) document. Most Living Wills instruct an attending physician to withhold or withdraw medical interventions from its signer if he/she is in a terminal or irreversible condition and is unable to make decisions about medical treatment.

Since an attending physician who may be unfamiliar with the signer’s wishes and values has the power and authority to carry out the signer’s directive, certain terms contained in the document may be interpreted by the physician in a manner that was not intended by the signer. Family members and others who are familiar with the signer’s values and wishes have no legal standing to interpret the meaning of the Living Will.

A Living Will may also be called a “Directive,” “Declaration,” “Individual Health Care Instruction,” etc.

Alliance for Life Ontario has made available the resource, Advance Directives and Living Wills, What are the Pitfalls, An Ontario, Canada Perspective and The LyfePRESERVER, a Protective Advance Directive and Power of Attorney for Personal Care. To order, select the item and click on the Buy Now Button. You do not need a Pay Pal account. Simply use your credit card.


What is the law in Canada concerning euthanasia and assisted suicide?

The Canadian Criminal Code does not address euthanasia. Killing a person is addressed under Homicide Section 222, Murder Section 229, Manslaughter Section 224, Punishment for Murder, Section 235, and Punishment for Manslaughter Section 236.  Assisted Suicide is directly addressed under Counselling or Aiding Suicide, Section 241 and Administering Noxious Thing, Section 245.

Click here for Relevant Provisions of the Criminal Code and the Civil Code: regarding Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, Withholding and Withdrawing Treatment and Pain Control and Sedation Practices.
Click here for Chronology of Major Canadian Developments and Events, 1972-1995 (Please note that update for 1996- present will be forthcoming.)
** The following links provide a comprehensive overview of the events and opinions surrounding the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide, withdrawal and withholding of treatment, pain management and sedation. Alliance for Life Ontario does not necessarily agree with everything presented in these reports. We provide them for your research.
Click here for the Senate Committee Report, 1995 The Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Of Life and Death – Final Report, June 1995
Click here  for the Final Senate Committee Report, 2000, Quality End-of-Life Care: The Right of Every Canadian Subcommittee to update “Of Life and Death.”
There currently is a bill before the house to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia. Click here to see the Bill C-384, An act to amend the Criminal Code(right to die with dignity). Click here (pdf) for analysis of Bill C-384.
Click here for a summary of Bill C-384

Recommended Links:

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation
Not Dead Yet 
Canadian Physicians for Life 
International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force 
Useless Eaters
Human Life Matters
Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation