As you may be aware, the Supreme Court of British Columbia recently made a ruling on Physician Assisted Suicide in the case of Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2012 BCSC 886. The Court found that the law against assisting a person to commit suicide was unconstitutional, as it violated the right of equality under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. Suicide is not illegal, but assisted suicide is, therefore the Court found that a physically disabled person who is unable to commit suicide on their own receives unequal treatment under the law.

There is little doubt that this judgment will provoke many reactions and this issue will likely end up in the Supreme Court of Canada. However, regardless of your opinion on the matter, there are many end-of-life decisions that people simply do not turn their mind to until it is too late.

Besides assisted suicide, where a medical practitioner helps to administer medication in order to cause the patient to die, there is also palliative care and passive euthanasia.  Palliative care is where pain medication is administered in high doses, even though it may have the effect of shortening someone’s life. Passive euthanasia is where the medical practitioner does not undertake life-saving treatment, for instance if someone has decided they do not want to be resuscitated, or that a feeding tube will be removed.

All of these end-of-life decisions are very difficult and cause a great deal of stress to our loved ones. It is a good idea to help your loved ones to navigate these impossible decisions by giving them some direction.

In British Columbia you can document your values, beliefs and wishes in a legally binding way. You can write a “living will” which sets out your instructions or wishes if you cannot be consulted. These living wills are usually very general, since medical technology is always changing and you cannot know in advance all of the available treatment options which you may or may not want to consent to. Generally living wills contain a statement to the effect that, if there is no reasonable chance of recovery and death is imminent, the person does not want to be kept alive by artificial means.

Often, the next of kin of a patient cannot agree on whether a person should be artificially sustained, or whether they should “pull the plug”. This is clearly a very upsetting argument for family members to have, and setting out your wishes in a clear way can help to ease your loved ones of that burden.

You may also name a representative to make medical and personal decisions on your behalf by signing a Medical Representation Agreement. This representative has to take into consideration your wishes and beliefs, but they will have the last word if you cannot be consulted. If you clearly grant someone this responsibility, you can hopefully avoid your family members arguing over these decisions. Children often argue over whether a parent needs to be in an assisted living facility, and which facility. Giving someone the authority to make this decision may not stop all disagreements, but it will hopefully keep your loved ones out of court, fighting over the right to make these decisions.

While there is no way to avoid the grief that will come with these end-of-life decisions, it is possible to ease the burden of your family a little by setting out your wishes well ahead of time.

The information provided above is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or address specific situations. Your personal situation should be discussed with a lawyer. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a legal professional.

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