PLUS158

Bill C-14: The Long History of Suicide, Euthanasia and Assisted Dying (55+)

In Carter v. Canada (2015), the Supreme Court of Canada agreed that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives Canadians a right—in some circumstances—to choose a physician-assisted death. This decision will profoundly alter the experience of dying for many Canadians in the 21st century.

Although Bill C-14, the legislative framework for the Supreme Court decision, became law in June 2016, the public response to assisted dying remains divided. We will review the philosophical, religious, legal, medical and ethical concerns—from antiquity to the present—that inform Canada’s legal and legislative decisions, and critically evaluate the complex dilemmas central to this ongoing debate.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: The Long History of Suicide, Euthanasia, and Assisted Dying in Western Culture

Western culture’s ethical response to suicide and other forms of self-initiated death can be found as early as 4,000 years ago in writings from ancient Egypt. We will begin by exploring how early responses to self-initiated death evolved in religion and philosophy, from Antiquity through to the Enlightenment philosophers. 

Week 2:  Modern Philosophical and Social Science Perspectives on Self-Initiated Death 

We continue to explore philosophical responses to self-initiated death by 18th and 19th century philosophers. We will also review early legal responses to suicide and euthanasia, and introduce perspectives from the emerging social sciences, particularly psychology and sociology. 

Week 3:  Suicide and Euthanasia in the Arts

Dramatists, novelists, poets and, more recently, movies and TV have  addressed the many ethical issues that all forms of self-initiated dying raise. This week we will review artistic representations of these ethical issues in Greek drama, novels, poetry, and award winning docudramas and movies. 

Week 4: “A Good Death”: Perspectives From Science, Medicine, and the Law

How have advances in science, the medicalization of dying, and legal discussions of human rights altered our understanding of what it means to experience a “Good Death” and a “Death with Dignity”? What is the role of suffering, choice, autonomy and control in a “good” or “dignified” death?   

Week 5: The Canadian Experience leading to Carter v. Canada

Canada’s transition to Carter v. Canada and Bill C-14 can be traced back to the decriminalization of suicide over four decades ago (1972). The process has been long and acrimonious, and has centered on the legal and ethical issues raised by several key cases including Sue Rodriguez, Robert Latimer and most recently Gloria Taylor and Kay Carter.   

Week 6: The Difficult Road Ahead 

Bill C-14 is now law but many are disappointed – some by the restrictions it has imposed on the right to die and others by what they see as an excessively permissive regime. Have we balanced suffering and protection for the vulnerable, individual choice, and social responsibility? What lies ahead?

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

Recommended reading

Aviv, R. (2015). The death treatment: When should people with a non-terminal illness be helped to die? The New Yorker, June 22, 2015.

Battin, M. (Ed.) (2015) The Ethics of Suicide: Historical Sources. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gawande, A. (2014). Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. New York: Henry Holt and Company.   

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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