Split Court of Appeals upholds Canada’s ban on physician-assisted suicide

By Dave Andrusko

British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith

British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith

A split British Columbia Court of Appeal today upheld Canada’s ban on physician-assisted suicide. The vote was 2-1.

The federal government had appealed what was described as a “landmark” ruling , a reference to “Carter v. Canada,” a 2012 decision in which Justice Lynn Smith declared that Canada’s prohibition against assisted suicide violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The case is now likely headed to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada considered assisted suicide 20 years ago when it looked at the case of Sue Rodriguez, who had Lou Gehrig’s disease. The Court held that, regardless of circumstances, no one could legally assist in another person’s death.

Referencing the Rodriquez case, the majority opinion, written by Justices Mary Newbury and Mary Saunders, concluded that while the law banning assisted suicide has evolved in the last two decades, it hasn’t changed enough to undermine the 1993 decision.

The federal government’s position was reiterated last week: “We do not support assisted suicide — that is our government’s clear position,” federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose said.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) expressed its appreciation for the appeals court decision, but reiterated what is at stake.

EPC legal counsel Hugh Scher stated:

“EPC is concerned about the safety, security and equality of people with disabilities and seniors, which is central to the protections set out under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our Criminal Code.”

Toujour-Vivant– Not Dead Yet leader, Amy Hasbrouck stated:

“People with disabilities, chronic illnesses and seniors are negatively affected by assisted suicide, euthanasia and other end-of-life practices.”

EPC-BC chair Dr. Will Johnston expressed his concern that legal assisted suicide has already being extended to people who are not terminally ill in jurisdictions where it is practiced.

Johnston also stated:

“Elder abuse, is already difficult to detect, would be no easier to combat when a suicide offer is always dangling before a vulnerable older person. Giving legal immunity to those who would provide suicide does not make our loved ones safer.”

EPC Executive Director, Alex Schadenberg, stated:

“The Carter decision erred in several significant areas … Judge Smith came to her decision by falsely assuming that there is a ‘right to suicide’ in Canada.

“In addition the Carter decision also misinterpreted data from other jurisdictions that have legalized assisted death by stating that there is no significant risk to vulnerable patient groups. A study from Belgium found that 32% of all assisted deaths were done without request and incompetent people who are over the age of 80 were vulnerable to dying by an assisted death without request.”

On a related note, as NRL News Today has reported, after five years of debate, the Quebec government has introduced euthanasia legislation. “The Quebec government is currently debating Bill 52, a bill which would decriminalize euthanasia with nearly identical definitions as the [wide-open] Belgian euthanasia law,” explained Schadenberg. “Quebec government officials have stated that Bill 52 would not allow newborns with disabilities and people with dementia to die by euthanasia, yet.”

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