I am an active Canadian citizen and a practicing Catholic. As a result, I stand on both sides of the passionate debate surrounding Canada’s legalization of abortion and medical assistance in dying. I know that these are not “popular” topics but they are two of the most important issues facing our society today.
In 1892, 25 years after confederation, Parliament passed Canada’s first Criminal Code. It prohibited abortion as well as the sale, distribution and advertising of contraceptives.
In 1969, 77 years later, Parliament wholly decriminalized contraception and decriminalized abortion under one circumstance – if a committee of doctors decided that continuing the pregnancy would endanger the mother’s life or health.
In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that existing abortion laws violated Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which states:
“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”
The Chief Justice at the time, Brian Dickson, wrote:
“Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a fetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman’s body and thus a violation of her security of the person.”
Medical Assistance in Dying
In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled to decriminalize medical assistance in dying. Now, there are two options available to Canadians – each must include a doctor or nurse who directly administers or provides a prescription for a substance that causes their death.
In order to be eligible for medical assistance in dying, one must:
- be eligible for health services funded by the federal government, or a province or territory
- be at least 18 years old and mentally competent
- have a serious illness, disease or disability
- be in an advanced state of decline that cannot be reversed
- experience unbearable physical or mental suffering from one’s illness, disease, disability or state of decline that cannot be relieved under conditions that one considers acceptable
- be at a point where one’s natural death has become reasonably foreseeable
- make a voluntary request for medical assistance in dying that is not the result of outside pressure or influence
- give informed consent to receive medical assistance in dying at the time of one’s request and immediately before medical assistance in dying is administered
I do not agree with medical assistance in dying, but I do agree that it should be legal. Everyone has freedom of choice. That includes the choice to end one’s life as long as the individual is mature and mentally competent enough to make an informed decision that does not harm or restrict the freedom of another person.
For that very same reason, I believe that abortion should be illegal. A mother or doctor should not be able to end the life of a child that cannot speak for itself unless the mother’s life is in danger and there is a higher probability of saving her life than the child’s. I agree that sanctioning abortion is contrary to a woman’s right to liberty and security of the person but I still don’t understand how that was enough to strike down the 1969 abortion law. The right to life is clearly given priority in Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Both the mother and the baby should share this right equally. We need to do a better job of providing public support to women so that they can see their pregnancies through, regardless of how they got there.
These are the facts and my positions on abortion and medical assistance in dying; both are subject to change as we continue to learn and grow.