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TOPIC 1 – The Question of Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and Assisted Dying

Over the past few years, the ‘Right to Die” has been the latest human right to be advocated for. While certain European countries and American states have had assisted dying legislation for several years, recent court challenges in the United Kingdom, Canada, and South Africa in particular have brought the issue to the forefront.

Proper terminology is critical to this debate, as the right to die potentially encompasses multiple different scenarios. Euthanasia is when an individual directly intervenes to facilitate the death of another person, such as a doctor administering a lethal injection. Assisted suicide entails helping an individual obtain the means to kill themselves, such as a doctor prescribing a fatal concoction of drugs for the individual to self-administer. Assisted dying refers to assisted suicide in the case of terminally ill patients, and is what laws such as Canada’s C-14 deal with.

The major legal question surrounding this issue is whether or not the right to life (Article 3 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR)) includes a ‘duty to live’. The interpretation of this issue has profound cultural influences. In more individualistic cultures, where personal freedom is generally prioritized over societal custom or duty, attitudes are much more open to the idea that the individuals should be free to exercise bodily autonomy and choose the manner and timing of their deaths. On the other hand, in collectivistic cultures, where an emphasis is placed on individuals’ responsibilities to society and their families, death is often feared and a taboo subject, as it impacts not just the individual, but also the individual’s family and larger community who may be ‘stakeholders’ in the individual’s life.

Additionally, the right to die debate has far-reaching consequences for other vulnerable populations, as well as the medical community. Some seniors advocates fear that seniors, who often worry of being a burden on their caregivers, will feel pressured to pursue assisted suicide in order to ease the load of care on their immediate caregivers and the health care system. Palliative care doctors are concerned that a terminal patient’s right to choose a natural death will become stigmatized as assisted dying becomes more prevalent, and that access to care will suffer. On a larger scale, disability advocates warn that granting the right to die may rekindle attitudes that a disabled life is not worth living; attitudes which will only serve to marginalize disabled individuals and reverse the strides made to de-stigmatize disability. In the medical community, concerns are mostly in relation to whether health care providers should be able exercise their conscience rights and opt-out of assisted dying procedures and referrals, and whether safeguards and reporting measures are sufficient to prevent potential abuse of the system, and has been alleged in jurisdictions such as the Netherlands.

Two major issues, among others, stand out for the HRC to address:

  1. What is the HRC’s stance on the existence of a ‘Right to Die” within the definition of Article 3 of the UNDHR?
    1. How can cultural differences be reconciled so that the HRC’s policy can respond to the legalization of assisted dying in some jurisdictions, while ensuring not to promote the ideological colonization of jurisdictions that oppose the practice?
  2. What limitations, if any, should be imposed on euthanasia, assisted suicide, and assisted dying procedures?
    1. How can policy both respect the autonomy of individuals who wish to die while also protecting vulnerable populations?

 

TOPIC 2 – Gentrification and its human rights consequences

Gentrification is a process in which lower-income urban areas undergo significant renovation and change due to an influx of wealth. This process typically occurs in one of two ways: When there is an influx of affluent residents in poorer areas, their wealth in turn attracts business and investment to the area. Similarly, when urban planners identify underprivileged areas to be targeted for investment and neighborhood renewal projects, the investment in turn attracts more affluent residents to the area. Gentrification falls under the category of ‘urban renewal’, which involves the redevelopment of high-density urban areas as a method of economic improvement and as a solution to the problem of urban sprawl.

Proponents of gentrification argue that it is both an effective and necessary step in reducing poverty and improving the safety and prosperity of communities. Some observations show that gentrification can lead to lower crime rates, and that greater socioeconomic diversity in gentrified neighborhoods correlates with increased wages among low-income residents.

On the other hand, gentrification can have significant negative effects on the original residents of gentrified communities. Property rental rates tend to increase with increased wealth and investment, and this can force low-income residents to leave their homes. Additionally, gentrification can cause the closure of small businesses, as investment typically serves to establish of multinational chains rather than support existing local ‘mom-and-pop’ stores. Together, this changes the social fabric of gentrified areas, and can have profound effects on the cultural vitality of the areas.

Whereas gentrification in western countries typically involves people and businesses moving from the suburbs into the inner city, developing countries can be faced with different gentrification challenges. Urban planning in developing countries often focuses on creating large, concentrated business districts in city centers, which prevents the economic benefits of development from reaching the residents of urban ‘slums’ towards the outskirts of the cities.

The gentrification debate stems from the larger issue of whether housing should be made a human right. In particular, the gentrification debate centers on the issue of whether residents have the right to control over their communities. Gentrification is sometimes viewed as a form of 21st century colonization, as gentrified communities are typically occupied by minority or vulnerable populations. This is especially problematic when it changes the cultural makeup of an area, as residents often feel they are being forcibly stripped of their culture and unique sense of community.

The principal issue, among others, for the HRC to address is:

  1. What human rights, if any, do communities have in the face of incoming gentrification?
    1. How do these rights differ, if at all, from the current human rights principles that guide urbanization efforts?
    2. What, if anything, does the duty to consult gentrification candidate communities entail?
    3. Are gentrified communities entitled to claim a portion of the economic benefits that come along with gentrification for themselves?