Assisted dying in Canada has entered a new era following the federal government's failure to meet a Supreme Court deadline for new legislation.

Opinion: The Death of a Butterfly

It's time for the federal government to show mercy on suffering Canadians who wish to die.

Monday was a lovely night for a walk around town, especially after I spent the bulk of the morning and afternoon in the office putting the finishing touches on this week’s print issue.

Toward the beginning of my evening saunter, I killed a butterfly. Maliciously. I stomped on it three times and then pressed it further into the ground to make sure I had completed the job.

I didn’t feel an ounce of remorse and I’d do it again.

But before you call PETA, hear me out.

This butterfly, a brilliant blue and yellow, was flapping its wings vigorously in the grass but unable to move. Upon further inspection, it became clear that its left wing was severely and critically damaged.

Basically, the poor little guy was screwed and I showed him the mercy of a quick and (mostly) painless death.

It struck me how timely my mercy kill was, given the discussion regarding assisted dying that continues to rage in Ottawa. With the Supreme Court’s June 6 deadline for legislation having passed without federal law, the legality on assisted death is now as clear as mud.

According to the Supreme Court, doctors can now help mentally competent adults who are suffering through a grievous and irremediable condition end their lives without facing criminal charges.

But without federal legislation, doctors associations are concerned that physicians could still be prosecuted.

There are also some problematic items within the legislation that the federal Liberals did try to pass, including not allowing advance requests for assisted death (individuals with dementia who lose their cognitive abilities could be out of luck) and treating individuals differently based on their medical conditions (terminal cancer might make you eligible, but not ALS).

According to a poll conducted by Ipsos Reid and commissioned by Dying with Dignity Canada, eight out of 10 Canadians believe that “individuals with a grievous and irremediable medical conditions, including patients with dementia, should be permitted to consent to assisted death in advance.” So while this might appear to be a controversial issue in some circles, Canadians are mostly in agreement with the Supreme Court’s Feb. 5 decision to strike down Canada’s law against assisted suicide.

The worst aspect of this snail’s pace at the federal level is that there are Canadians in the hospital right now who might be begging for mercy, but have a doctor whose hands are tied by the fact that our government can’t pass a proper piece of legislation. According to a story in the Globe and Mail, some doctors plan to go ahead and perform assisted deaths this week. But others, such as in Ontario, are so concerned about future charges that they are still going through the slower process of having the assisted death authorized by the Supreme Court.

If we can show mercy to an insect, then surely we can show mercy to our fellow men and women. It’s well past time that our federal government stepped up and gave Canadians the right to live or die.

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