The debate over physician-assisted suicide

WATCH: Tom Clark explains the debate surrounding physician-assisted suicide

A  group of doctors who oppose physician-assisted suicide say making it legal would put pressure on vulnerable Canadians to end their life even if they don’t want to.

“In a case of a sick, older person in the hospital or not so older, there are so many things going on. There are the fears. There’s the isolation. You know most people who choose euthanasia in places where it’s legal, it’s not because they’re in pain, it’s because they’re afraid for the future,” said Dr. Catherine Ferrier in an interview on The West Block.

Dr. Ferrier works in geriatrics at the Montreal General hospital.  She spoke as a representative of the Physicians Alliance Against Euthanasia.

In an open letter to Canadians, the group wrote, “In the 40 years since palliative care was introduced into Canada, the ability to control pain and other symptoms is improving constantly, although problems of equitable access persist. This is a grave injustice and, many believe, a breach of human rights, but the remedy is not to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, it’s to provide the support dying people need.”

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WATCH BELOW: Catherine Ferrier with The Physicians Alliance Against Euthanasia talks to Tom Clark about physician-assisted suicide

Wayne Sumner, a professor at the University of Toronto, doesn’t agree legalizing physician-assisted suicide would put vulnerable Canadians at ristk.  He points to examples set by jurisdictions who have already made it legal.

“Overwhelmingly, the evidence is that no such thing has happened and that is the conclusion that Justice [Lynn] Smith drew at the trial level. And she concluded that medically-assisted dying has been shown in other jurisdictions that it can be safely legalized,” Sumner told Clark in an interview.

The issue is back in front of the Supreme Court of Canada. In June 2012, the B.C. Supreme Court agreed that existing laws denied a B.C. woman the right to control her own life, and gave the court a year to write new ones.  The case was appealed.

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The argument that assisted suicide prohibitions violate the Charter rests on two sections: Section 7, which sets out the right to life, liberty and security of the person, and Section 15, which grants equality rights.

Those who support physician-assisted suicide argue the ban disadvantages people with disabilities, because some would need help to commit suicide.

WATCH BELOW: University of Toronto professor Wayne Sumner explains why he believes physician-assisted suicide can be safely legalized

That argument doesn’t sway Dr. Ferrier.

“Disabled people have the right to do all of the things that able bodied people do, but they can’t do a lot of them. And that’s just the way it is because of their disability,” said Ferrier.

She told Clark many disabled Canadians actually oppose legalizing assisted suicide because it targets them unfairly.

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Sumner says that’s not true.

“Recent  polls have shown that the level of support among members of the disability community in favour of legalization is just as high as it is in the general population,” Sumner said.

– with files from The Canadian Press

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