Will Canadians Benefit from the Revolutionary Gene Editing Tool CRISPR-Cas9?

Contributed by Anita Sengupta

Introduction

Recent technological developments in the field of genetics have revolutionized biomedical research in ways we could not have imagined even a decade ago. In 2003, the Human Genome Project mapped out the full sequence of the human genome. In 2011, scientists developed a gene-editing tool called Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR-Cas9) that can be used to directly manipulate plant, animal and human genes. Together, the human genome blueprint and CRISPR-Cas9 promise to revolutionize the treatment of both hereditary and other diseases, such as cancers, cystic fibrosis and AIDS. It also opens up the possibility of using organs from different species in human transplantations and removing allergens from peanuts.

Despite such great promise, ethical and social concerns over gene editing have restricted the use of CRISPR-Cas9 in Canada. Canada has some of the most restrictive gene editing laws in the world, where gene editing on inheritable genes is a criminal offense, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. In this article, I will consider what effect Canada’s strict gene editing laws have on scientific and medical progress in Canada and explore the potential beneficial and nefarious uses of the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9. Continue reading “Will Canadians Benefit from the Revolutionary Gene Editing Tool CRISPR-Cas9?”

Dying with Dignity: The Growing Importance of Palliative Care in Canada

Contributed by Anita Sengupta

Introduction

In early 2010, Kathleen Carter, an 89-year-old Canadian woman, decided to die with dignity and travelled to Switzerland, where medically assisted dying is legal. Kathleen suffered from spinal stenosis, a terminal disease, and worried that her death would be “slow, difficult, unpleasant, painful, [and] undignified” (para 12). Although Kathleen was able to die on her own terms, her family believed that she should have been allowed to die at home in Canada, surrounded by her family and friends. This led to the landmark Supreme Court of Canada case, Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), February 2015, which ruled that the criminalization of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) in Canada was contrary to section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, namely an individual’s right to life, liberty and security of the person. In June 2016, in response to this decision, the government passed Bill C-14 to amend the Criminal Code, thereby allowing physicians in Canada to provide medical assistance in dying if certain conditions are met.

An important condition to providing medical assistance in dying is that the patient must give informed consent. In Carter v. Canada, the trial judge said, “[…] physicians should ensure that patients are properly informed of their diagnosis and prognosis and the range of available options for medical care, including palliative care interventions aimed at reducing pain and avoiding the loss of personal dignity” (para 106). This ruling not only made MAiD legal, but it also prompted the development of legislation focused on improving palliative care, which was recognized as a viable alternative to MAiD. Continue reading “Dying with Dignity: The Growing Importance of Palliative Care in Canada”