The two most salient national stories this week have to be yesterday's introduction of new right to die legislation and the revelations earlier this week that there is an urgent crisis in northern communities regarding lack of access to adequate mental health services. So far as I can tell, nobody is talking about these two stories together, which I find remarkable given the connections.
In the case of the new legislation, there has been a rush to come up with suitable modifications to the criminal code in the wake of last year's supreme court ruling. While it is clear that more than 75 per cent of Canadians support some form or right to die legislation, there is a strong disconnect politically as crafting legal frameworks is (by definition) tricky business.
The Liberals have been busy since the election drafting their proposed fix, though the result has been (by many accounts) disappointing. Instead of sweeping change, the legislation gently broadens the circumstances under which doctor-assisted death may occur legally. There will be a lot of room for interpretation around suffering and duration which will lead to serious precedents being set in the near future. The result of these changes has been to continue to restrict the right to die for people who have are suffering.
We are all familiar with the moral arguments around end of life care. Our legal system, particularly in criminal law, is predicated on long traditions of western morality.
But we should be asking ourselves, if we are not accepting of doctor-assisted death, then why are we so complicit in a First Nations reservation system that, without a doubt, condemns those in it to poverty, suffering, and death?
Morality is, of course, highly subjective. Moreover, it is intrinsically self-contradictory in its application. But if we are truly going to live in a society that we can be proud of, then why aren't we focused on dignity?
In both cases, the failure to focus on dignity reduces the suffering of people who are trapped in system - health care or reservations. Desperation, whether due to the decay of the human body or due to systemic racism manifests itself similarly: in the will to end that struggle.
It is patently disingenuous to be so preoccupied with preventing someone from receiving doctor-assisted death but not concerned for the epidemic that is suicide in northern communities. We all deserve dignity, whether in the pursuit of life or at its end.