By Dave Andrusko
As widely feared, the Supreme Court of Canada this morning unanimously overturned Canada’s over 100-year-old prohibition against assisted suicide.
Response was immediate, not surprisingly in any event, but especially in light of the key paragraphs in the 9-0 decision.
Physician-assisted suicide is “limited” to “a competent adult person who clearly consents to the termination of life and has a grievous and irremediable medical condition, including an illness, disease or disability, that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.” (emphasis added)
“Within those parameters,” wrote Sean Kilpatrick for the Canadian Press, “the court said the nature of the suffering includes either physical or psychological pain. The person’s condition need not be terminal” (emphasis added).
The court’s decision effectively overturns its 1993 ruling that rejected Sue Rodriguez’s request for the “right” to a physician’s assistance in ending her life, ruling that there was no constitutional right to assisted suicide.
Dying with Dignity Canada CEO Wanda Morris said, “We’re deeply heartened by the court’s compassion towards those who suffer unbearably or face the prospect of a horrific death.”
Those who may well be targets of this new “right” and their defenders took a very different view. In a joint statement, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living said they are “profoundly disappointed” with the ruling.
“As we each near the end of our lives, at the time when we are likely to be most vulnerable to despair and fear, we have now lost the protection of the Criminal Code,” the groups said. “Where shall we now find that protection? CCD and CACL caution that our collective response to this question must go far beyond the technical exercise of so-called ‘safeguards.’ ”
“In striking down Rodriguez, our highest court told Canadians today that the lives of the weak, infirm, and vulnerable are not worth protecting. The court in essence decided that some people are better off dead than alive and gave power to those who are strong to end the lives of those who are weak. This is a terrible day of shame for Canada.”
In his story, Kilpatrick added, “The high court suspended Friday’s declaration for 12 months in order to give the federal and provincial governments time to respond and, should they choose, to launch legislative efforts to craft a regulatory framework for physician-assisted suicide. The court did not set practical parameters for doctor-assisted dying beyond the criteria for who is eligible to access physician-assisted suicide.”
The lawsuit was launched by the family of Kay Carter, a woman who died by assisted suicide in 2010 in Switzerland.
The Carter family, represented by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, asserted that Kay was denied the “right” to die with dignity in Canada and that her family was forced to break the law by assisting her to travel to Switzerland.
On June 15, 2012, Justice Lynn Smith decided that Canada’s assisted suicide law was unconstitutional. The federal government appealed the decision of Justice Smith to the BC Court of Appeal.
The British Columbia Court of Appeal subsequently found that Smith did not have the right to strike down Canada’s assisted suicide law and that she made several errors and incorrect assumptions in her decision. That decision, in turn, was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada which agreed in January 2014 to hear the appeal.
The Supreme Court cited Smith’s reasoning in its decision.
“She concluded that it would be possible for physicians to apply the informed consent standard to patients who seek assistance in dying, adding the caution that 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.”
The justices explicitly rejected the contention that physicians would be compelled to take part in an assisted suicide and that people with disabilities would be at great peril.
Indeed the court took the exact opposite position, according to Kilpatrick
Given the section’s disproportionate impact on physically disabled persons, it also violates section 15 equality rights of the physically disabled, they said.
Note (a) that the court sees the “inability” of the “physically disabled” to have access to physician assisted suicide as a form of discrimination; and (b) that, as noted above, the patient need not be terminally ill.
Even more ominous is that this newly minted “right” applies to “psychological pain” as well.