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Medically assisted dying in Canada and unjust social conditions: a response to Wiebe and Mullin
  1. Timothy Christie1,2,3,
  2. Madeline Li4,5
  1. 1Ethics Services, Horizon Health Network, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
  2. 2Adjunct Professor of Bioethics, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  3. 3Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, University of New Brunswick, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
  4. 4Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  5. 5Clinician Scientist, Department of Supportive Care, Princess Margaret Cancer Center, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Timothy Christie, Ethics Services, Horizon Health Network, Saint John, Canada; timothy.christie{at}


In the paper, titled ‘Choosing death in unjust conditions: hope, autonomy and harm reduction,’ Wiebe and Mullin argue that people living in unjust social conditions are sufficiently autonomous to request medical assistance in dying (MAiD). The ethical issue is that some people may request MAiD primarily because of unjust social conditions, not their illness, disease, disability or decline in capability. It is easily agreed that people living in unjust social conditions can be autonomous. Nevertheless, Wiebe and Mullin fail to appreciate that autonomy is only a necessary condition for MAiD. In addition to autonomy, one must decide that providing assisted dying to a patient because they are living in unjust social conditions is ethical. Central to making this ethical decision is the principle of non-maleficence, famously articulated as ‘do no harm.’ The authors admit that performing MAiD in response to unjust social circumstances is harmful, but they justify this harmful action by appealing to the principle of harm reduction. A fundamental flaw of their approach is that it relies on the legislative definition of intolerable suffering, which is based on circular reasoning and given that 99.2% of patients that have applied for MAiD satisfied this criterion, it is essentially equivalent to no standard/criterion. Canadian society is struggling with the ethical implications of its permissive MAiD programme, and, fundamental to this debate, will be determining the proper balance between autonomy and non-maleficence for people living in unjust social conditions.

  • Ethics
  • Euthanasia
  • Death
  • Decision Making
  • Ethics- Medical

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  • Contributors ML and TC jointly came up with the idea for the paper and jointly developed all the content. TC wrote the first draft and is the corresponding author.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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