Our daughter's 12-year-old German Shepherd, a dog named Chance, died last Sunday. In his final weeks, he had lost his will to live. When he could walk at all, he looked for dark corners, suitable for dying in peace.
Last Sunday, his hindquarters would no longer lift him off the floor. Our daughter, in tears, drove him to the local veterinary clinic. He died peacefully, without pain, having his magnificent head gently caressed by the person he loved most.
If I were a dog, I couldn't imagine a better way to die.
But tomorrow, lawyers for the federal government go to court to prevent people from having the same option.
They're appealing the decision of Justice Lynn Smith of the B.C. Supreme Court. She ruled on April 12 last year that the current law making assisted suicide a criminal
offence was unconstitutional because it
discriminated against disabled people.
The case was brought to court originally by Gloria Taylor of West Kelowna and two others. Taylor - no relation - had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Justice Smith gave the federal government a year to revise the law prohibiting assisted suicide. In the meantime, she granted Taylor an exemption - which, in the end, Taylor did not need. She died last October from infections caused by a perforated colon.
Smith's 395-page ruling seems to me to boil down to this reasoning:
Suicide is not illegal in Canada. Nor is
attempted suicide. Both were removed from the list of criminal offences in 1972. At the same time, the the legal right of mentally competent people to refuse treatment was established.
From that, it follows that anyone may choose to end their life. But some are physically incapable of doing so - such as those in the final stages of ALS, or a number of other terminal disabilities - unless they ask for help.
But giving help is still illegal.
Therefore, the law as it stands denies them an option open to every other Canadians.
Permission does not equal approval - that's an important distinction.
I remember a friend, a pastor, whose son developed inoperable and untreatable brain cancer. Their son asked his parents to help him commit suicide. They refused - on both legal and moral grounds - but said they would not stop him from doing it himself.
In many jurisdictions, even that would be a crime. Failure to prevent someone from committing suicide becomes complicity, aiding and abetting the perpetrator.
Their son waited too long.
For his final months, he suffered. His parents suffered. His friends suffered. No one benefited from keeping him alive a few months longer.
Opponents of assisted suicide claim it could open the door to abuse. I agree; it could. Vast numbers of elderly people already suffer neglect and abuse. To rid themselves of an inconvenience, greedy children could well pressure ailing parents to choose suicide.
But prohibiting suicide - with or without assistance - condemns those same people to continued abuse. I'm not convinced that preventing some unscrupulous people from exploiting an opportunity justifies forcing other people to suffer unnecessarily.
The primary argument against permitting assisted suicide is that it could lead to much worse - euthanasia, ethnic cleansingâ€¦
It's the slippery slope argument - start down it, and you inevitably end up at the bottom with Nazi death camps.
But why should the slippery slope metaphor apply only to negative outcomes? Could we not equally well argue that by granting disabled people the right to determine their own destiny, we will inevitably evolve toward a more compassionate, more equitable, society?
I particularly reject the argument that only God has the right to determine one's time to die. That was, in essence, the church's rationale for centuries for refusing to bury suicides inside its cemeteries. They had offended against God's will by taking their lives into their own hands.
But we meddle in divine prerogatives constantly. We shorten lives by waging wars and poisoning the environment; we extend lives by medicine, hygiene, and nutrition.
Did the surgeons who repaired my cardiac arteries commit a sin by letting me live longer?
If we truly believed people should not be permitted to shorten their lives, we should make suicide itself a criminal offence. A mandatory death penalty might be counter-productive. But survivors could be charged with attempted murder. They did, after all, try to kill someone.
Obviously, I don't endorse any such proposal. But that, it seems to me, is the logical extension of treating suicide itself as rebellion against the divine order.
The important factor is not when people die, but how they die. Palliative care can make those final days, or months, more
tolerable. But when even palliative care becomes intolerable, we need to grant humans the same opportunity to exit peacefully, calmly, surrounded by love, that we give our dogs.
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at