Canada's Supreme Court recently declared the Criminal Code prohibition against physician-assisted suicide (PAS) constitutionally invalid and has given Parliament one year to draft legislative safeguards.
A major pro for PAS has to do with personal autonomy, i.e., the individual's choice in response to suffering. Suffering can be terrible, to be sure. And freedom is important, truly.
However, the freedom to exercise one's choice is not absolute. I do not have the freedom to swing my fist without regard for the tips of other people's noses.
So, yes, individual freedom is important, but the individual does not live in a social vacuum. In public policy debates we should think about the individual's freedom AND the consequences for the larger society.
The acceptance of PAS has (at least) four cons or concerns—i.e., four possible negative consequences for the larger society—which should also be considered.
Concern 1. With the acceptance of PAS, our society will see suicide more and more as a legitimate way of solving an individual's problems. Got a problem that makes you suffer? Don't forget you can get help to kill yourself!
(This scenario is not far-fetched. At one of the universities I attended not too long ago, I worked as a teaching assistant in an ethics course for a fellow doctoral student who told the class [a] that he had advised his roommate that suicide was an option as a solution to the roommate's problems and [b] that subsequently the roommate committed suicide. My fellow doctoral student displayed no qualms about the advice.)
Concern 2. Life will no longer be seen as society's default position and so our most vulnerable—the elderly, terminally ill, disabled—must begin to justify their lives. Surely, this is a nasty burden to place on people when they're already down.
Concern 3. If the choice or autonomy of the sufferer constitutes sufficient legal grounds for the sufferer to end his/her life, then unwanted suicide intervention or counseling against suicide may become grounds for a lawsuit against the intervener or counselor. There may very well be a chilling effect against suicide intervention and counseling.
In other words, legal acceptance of PAS puts gobs of logical-legal grease onto the path that leads to killing as a solution to suffering. The result: eliminating sufferers becomes equated with eliminating suffering.