The Euthanasia Debate in Canada: Political Science, Sociological and Ethical Perspectives

by jpd95 on Mai 14, 2015 - 7:31pm

Death is something that not many people look forward to.  Death is one of those things that nobody really knows what happens to the person’s mind.  The unfortunate thing is that death is inevitable.  Everyone dies eventually.  Now some people live longer than others, and some try to preserve their bodies once they die in case science advances to the point where we can bring a person back to life that has been dead for years.  In 2015 this happens all the time.  Famous people and rich people have themselves cryogenically frozen so that science can develop to the point where they can be brought back to life.  Science is not there yet; the key word there is yet.  However, the healthcare industry in Quebec was given a little twist in how it is able to operate.  As discussed in a previous post Bill 52, known as the Right-to-Die Act was passed by the Quebec National Assembly and is to be put in place by the end of the 2015 calendar year.  Bill 52 is referring to euthanasia.  There exists quite a debate regarding the legalization of euthanasia that can be examined through the scope of political science, ethics and sociology.  The viewpoint of these three disciplines regarding euthanasia will be examined here.

Before beginning, there are two different types of euthanasia.  There is what is known as passive euthanasia and what is known as active euthanasia.  There is a great difference between the two.  Active euthanasia is the deliberate action taken by an individual with the intention of ending another person’s life (Achille & Ogloff).  Passive euthanasia is when a person does not step in to stop a treatment or action that could potentially end someone’s life (Achille & Ogloff).  Euthanasia remains euthanasia, the act of purposely ending someone’s life.  With doctor-assisted suicide now going to be legal in Quebec, the healthcare system will definitely change, as things will to be very different for patients.

The art of politics, not everyone is made for it.  Not everyone can handle being a politician, constantly living in a spotlight and being judged for their actions.  However, society needs people who can handle being a politician or else we would not have a society as we know it today.  It is a politician’s duty and obligation to do what the people wants, to give the people what they want.  In Quebec, the Members of the National Assembly believe that the Right to Die Act is what the larger portion of society wants.  In the United States there are four states in which assisted suicide is not illegal: Oregon, Washington State, Vermont and Montana (Boudreau & Somerville).  The legal aspect of this entire debate is one that is quite fascinating.  Euthanasia does not refer to a situation where a patient could die any day but decides he or she wants to end his or her life right then and there.  Euthanasia “refers to a situation in which the patient’s death is not imminent and the patient is sedated with the primary intention of precipitating their death” (Boudreau & Somerville).  Legally, for a patient to be offered euthanasia as an option in countries where euthanasia is legal, the patient must have been offered palliative care before euthanasia and have either refused it or tried it and changed their mind (Boudreau & Margaret).  Then comes the other part of the debate: was the patient competent to make that decision.  The patient must be legally competent and the consent must have been given voluntarily (Boudreau & Somerville).  Now, what is legally competent?  A person who wishes to have euthanasia as an option cannot have a mental illness, or else they will be deemed legally incompetent to make that demand.  Looking at laws, the recent Canadian Supreme Court ruling in the case of Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) deemed that Canadian citizens who are competent while suffering to a level which they can no longer tolerate and the pain is to last for the remainder of their life are able to ask for a doctor’s help in ending their life.  The Supreme Court suspended their ruling until February 2016 in order to give the Canadian government enough time to propose changes to the current laws.  When looking at euthanasia through a political science lens, a person will look at the laws that are currently in place and will argue for it or against it with the laws as their arguments.  However, when it comes to euthanasia and with the laws in Canada changing in the very near future, or being put in place like in Quebec, a person arguing from political science point of view will have a very difficult time using the laws as their arguments.  It is no secret that Bill 52 and the Supreme Court ruling is a major breakthrough for the medical field in Canada but people are still weary.

Another way to look at this debate is through the eyes of sociology.  By looking at society as a whole and how it reacts to the debate taking place.  Malpas et al. (2015) conducted a study in which the respondents were senior citizens to examine how they felt about doctor-assisted suicide.  Their findings were quite split down the middle, but the responses they got were quite interesting.  People were influenced by deaths they had experienced in the past.  If a loved one had passed away in a good situation they were more likely to support euthanasia.  For some people, the possibility of potential consequences were viewed and weighed as being to high and too big of a gamble to allow doctor-assisted suicide.  Some worry that if doctor assisted death were legalized it might lead to less autonomy for patients.  Their wishes would always be put into question wondering if their wish was consensual.  Autonomy is something that will be examined later on in the ethics part of this essay.  Some of the respondents worried that if doctor-assisted suicide were to be legalized this could lead to a snowball effect.  These respondents felt that with time the possibility of allowing family members to make the decision on behalf of the patient if the patient is deemed incompetent of consenting would become a reality.  Others felt that older people have a duty to their family and to society to die in order to lessen the burden.  With that in mind, some also felt that patients could become more likely to use this as an option to lessen the financial burden on their loved ones and also that they could become “targets of persuasion” where family members and/or doctors would try to persuade them to ask to be euthanized.

Finally there is the ethical side to this debate and people have a hard time agreeing to the ethics behind euthanasia.  First off, when examining euthanasia through and ethical perspective we look at two different concepts: autonomy and rights (Saunders & Saloner).  Saunders & Saloner argue that the patient has the right to exercise control over their healthcare.  In another previous post discussing euthanasia, I looked at the ethical side of this from a John Locke perspective.  I argued that if Locke were alive today and he would be taking part in this same debate, he would believe that as long as people are able to make the decision they should have the right to ask to be euthanized.  According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Locke argued that people “are free to do those things which we both will to do and are physically capable of doing”.  That statement alone can be applied to the euthanasia debate when looking at the ethics of it.  Ethically, people have the right to control what directly affects them; plain and simple.  Saunders & Saloner also argue that doctors have a duty to “relieve pain” and do what they can to ensure that their patients are as comfortable as they can be.  Thus, a person arguing for euthanasia from an ethical perspective would argue that a doctor have the ethical duty to euthanize a patient, who desires to be euthanized, if there is no other course of action possible.  When looking at autonomy, it must be remembered that a person is autonomous to begin with.  When someone enters adulthood, they start being autonomous and taking care of themselves, making their own decisions.  That should not stop simply because they are sick.  As previously mentioned, a person has the right to control his or her own healthcare; they are autonomous in making that decision.  Also looking at the ethics, when people have pets and their pet becomes sick they bring it to the veterinarian.  The veterinarian will often prescribe drugs or surgery to fix, or attempt to fix, the problem.  However, when an animal is suffering and there is nothing for anyone to do the owner makes the choice to euthanize it.  Thus, someone arguing for euthanasia could argue that if it is ethically okay for people to decide when it is time to end their pet’s life, it should be okay for a person to have that same opportunity for themselves once they see no other way and they are in an incredible amount of pain.

In conclusion, the debate regarding euthanasia has been one that has existed in many countries for quite some time now.  With Quebec passing Bill 52 and with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) the euthanasia debate has picked up dramatically in Canada.  This debate can be examined through a political science perspective, a sociology perspective and through an ethical perspective.  No matter which side of the coin a person falls regarding this debate it is hugely important for people to educate themselves on this topic as it will more than likely have a huge impact on how the healthcare system operates in this country.




Achille, Marie A., and James R. Ogloff. "When is a Request for Assisted Suicide Legitimate? Factors Influencing Public Attitudes Toward Euthanasia." Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science 29.1 (1997): 19-27. ProQuest. Web. 13 May 2015.


Boudreau, J. Donald, and Margaret A. Somerville. "Euthanasia And Assisted Suicide: A Physician's And Ethicist's Perspectives." Medicolegal & Bioethics 4.(2014): 1-12. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 May 2015.


Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5.


Malpas, Phillipa J, et al. "Why Do Older People Oppose Physician-Assisted Dying? A Qualitative Study." Palliative Medicine 28.4 (2014): 353-359. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 May 2015.


Sanders, Karen, and Chris Chaloner. "Voluntary Euthanasia: Ethical Concepts And Definitions. (Cover Story)." Nursing Standard 21.35 (2007): 41-44. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 May 2015.