Canadian Judge upholds decision giving woman “right” to die by euthanasia or assisted suicide

By Dave Andrusko

British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) said today that it is troubled by the decision of  the British Columbia court not to stay the constitutional exemption granted to Gloria Taylor to die by euthanasia or assisted suicide. Alex Schadenberg, executive director, said EPC urges the Government to appeal the court order issued by Justice Jo-Ann Prowse.

“EPC is concerned that this court order may prompt other people with similar conditions to apply for a constitutional exemption to die by euthanasia before the Supreme Court and Parliament have ruled on the matter,” he said.

On June 15, 2012, the British Columbia Supreme Court rendered a controversial judgment in the case of “Carter vs. Canada,“ one that purports to create constitutional immunity for those who provide assistance to those seeking to kill themselves.

The B.C. Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Lynn Smith, was put on hold for one year—with the sole exception being the plaintiff, ALS patient Gloria Taylor–to give Parliament time to address the law.

The federal government appealed the BC Supreme Court decision and also asked the Appeal Court to revoke Taylor’s exemption until the case is heard, likely next spring.

But Justice Jo-Ann Prowse ruled Friday “that taking away Taylor’s exemption would cause her irreparable harm, outweighing the interests of the federal government and the public in preventing a single case of doctor-assisted suicide,” according to Star.com.

“I accept that the exemption has important symbolic and, perhaps, psychological, value, which extends beyond Ms. Taylor to those who are similarly situated, whether or not they agree with the decision under appeal,” Justice Jo-Ann Prowse wrote in a decision released Friday. “She may be a symbol, but she is also a person,” the judge continued later, “and I do not find that it is necessary for the individual to be sacrificed to a concept of the ‘greater good,’ which may, or may not, be fully informed.”

In 1993, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canada’s assisted suicide legislation was constitutional. In April 2010, Canada’s parliament overwhelming defeated a bill that would have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“The existing laws prohibiting euthanasia and assisted suicide remain in effect,” argued Hugh Scher, EPC legal counsel.  “Parliament and the Supreme Court of Canada have endorsed the constitutionality of the law.”

“Most elder abuse is hidden from view – and if we can’t detect the abuse now, how are we going to do it when the stakes are raised?” said Dr. Will Johnston, EPC – British Columbia Chair. “I have seen how easily influenced older people can be, and how inadequate are our national strategies against suicide.”

Schadenberg concluded, “It is not appropriate for any single judge to over-ride parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law.”

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