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Euthanasia

LegalWills.ca is dedicated to providing services related to advance directives, including Living Wills which allow you to specify your wishes regarding voluntary passive euthanasia.  Below are some questions and answers related to euthanasia.

What is euthanasia?

Euthanasia is the act of intentionally causing the death of a patient, normally to relieve the patient's pain, suffering, or loss of quality of life. To be considered euthanasia, the act must be performed by a third party. For example, giving a patient a lethal injection would be considered euthanasia.

What is assisted suicide?

Assisted suicide is the act of intentionally causing the death of a person, where the person themselves performs the last act which causes death to occur. For example, if a person swallows an overdose of drugs that have been provided by a doctor for the purpose of causing death, or if a patient pushes a switch to trigger a fatal injection after the doctor has inserted an intravenous needle into the patient's vein.

Is euthanasia legal?

The law is changing very rapidly with respect to euthanasia and assisted dying. Legislation on euthanasia in most countries distinguishes between passive euthanasia (withholding or withdrawing of life-preserving procedures including water and food) and active euthanasia (intentionally killing a person to relieve pain).

In Canada, passive euthanasia has been legal for quite some time, but active euthanasia was previously prohibited as a form of culpable homicide up until June 6th 2016 with a Supreme Court decision (Carter v Canada). It ruled that adults with grievous and irremediable medical conditions are entitled to physician-assisted suicide.

In the United States, while active euthanasia is illegal throughout the U.S., assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California (effective from June 2016), one county in New Mexico, and is de facto legal in Montana.

In the United Kingdom, euthanasia and assisted dying are both illegal. Section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961, as originally enacted, provided that it was an offence to "aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another" and that a person who committed this offence was liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years. That section was amended by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. Although it is an offence to assist a patient in committing suicide, many doctors still assist their patients with their wishes by withholding treatment and reducing pain. This, however, is only done when the doctors feel that death is a few days away and after consulting patients, relatives or other doctors.

Does the law require that people be forced to stay alive?

No. Many people think that euthanasia or assisted suicide is needed so that patients won't be forced to remain alive by being "hooked up to machines". But the law already permits patients or their families to withhold or withdraw unwanted medical treatment even if that increases the likelihood that the patient will die. Thus, no one needs to be "hooked up to machines" against their will.

Furthermore, insisting against a patient's wishes that "everything be done" to keep them alive is not required by law nor by medical ethics. There comes a time when continued attempts to cure are not compassionate, wise, or medically sound. That is the time when all efforts are normally directed to making the patient's remaining time as comfortable as possible, including alleviating pain, alleviating symptoms, and perhaps even leaving the hospital so that they may spend the rest of their days in a more comfortable home environment.

These wishes are normally outlined in a living will, as provided by the MyLivingWill™ service here at LegalWills.ca.

Since suicide isn't against the law, why should it be illegal to help someone commit suicide?

Neither suicide nor attempted suicide is criminalized anywhere in the United States or in many other countries. This is not because of any "right" to suicide. When penalties against attempted suicide were removed, legal scholars made it clear that this was not done for the purpose of permitting suicide. Instead it was intended to prevent suicide. Penalties were removed so people could seek help in dealing with the problems they're facing without risk of being prosecuted if it were discovered that they had attempted suicide.

Why should I create a Living Will or Advance Directives?

Most people die in hospitals and often this is after receiving treatment administered in an effort to prolong a person's life.  Medical staff are duty bound to use everything within the powers of modern medicine to keep a patient alive as long as possible, and within those powers there are regulations to be followed.  Medical staff are obliged to preserve a patient's life without necessarily considering the financial or emotional concerns of the patient and loved ones.

A Living Will gives you some say in the way you will be treated before you die, in a situation where death is otherwise inevitable.  This can be used in two ways --- to put a swift end to intolerable suffering, or to endorse the use of experimental treatment to try and save your life if at all possible.

When will a Living Will be used?

The most common use of a Living Will is to express your desire for a voluntary passive euthanasia.  Simply put, this means that medical staff should not artificially preserve your life under specific circumstances which are determined by you.  In addition, your Living Will or "health care directive" can express your views on the healthcare that you wish to receive if you were ever in a permanent coma.

How do I create a Living Will?

The MyLivingWill™ service here at LegalWills.ca will let you create and define a living will to handle the above circumstances in accordance with your wishes, in the case where you are unable to communicate your wishes yourself.

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