Assisted Dying for Individuals with Dementia: Challenges for Translating Ethical Positions into Law

In Michael Cholbi & Jukka Varelius (eds.), New Directions in the Ethics of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. Cham: Springer Verlag. pp. 67-92 (2015)
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Abstract

In this chapter, we explore the issue of assisted dying for individuals with dementia at the nexus of ethics and law. We set out the basic medical realities of dementia and the available data about the desire for the option of assisted dying in the face of dementia. We then describe law and practice with respect to voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide in jurisdictions that permit at least some assisted dying. We conclude that, because of the peculiar ways in which some of the features of dementia interact with specific legislative provisions, less access to assisted dying for persons with dementia can be realized through the legislation than might have been intended or expected. We then describe draft assisted dying legislation that is before the federal Parliament of Canada. We conclude that, because of the peculiar ways in which some of the features of dementia interact with specific legislative provisions, more access to assisted dying for persons with dementia would be realized, if the legislation was passed as drafted, than might be intended or expected. This exercise reveals that very careful attention needs to be paid to the features of dementia if drafting assisted dying legislation in order to actually achieve the desired law reform effect (whatever that might be). The interplay of common ethical rationales for permitting assisted dying (e.g., autonomy and alleviation of suffering) with common features of dementia (e.g., loss of competence before the terminal phase of the illness, loss of the capacity to communicate before the loss of the capacity to suffer) raises challenges for translating one’s ethical position on assisted dying for individuals with dementia into law. NB: This chapter is current up to 2015.

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