Euthanasia Prevention Coalition media spokeswoman Taylor Hyatt said the Supreme Court’s Feb. 6 decision striking down laws against assisted suicide discriminates against people with disabilities. “That means me,” said Hyatt, who has cerebral palsy. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Opponents rally in wake of Supreme Court decision on assisted suicide

By 
  • February 10, 2015

OTTAWA - Disappointment, indignation and calls to invoke the notwithstanding clause followed a historic Supreme Court of Canada unanimous decision that struck down a ban on physician-assisted suicide and opened the door to assisted death for people who may not have a terminal illness.

The far-reaching Feb. 6 ruling gave federal and provincial governments a year to draft legislation that regulates physician-assisted suicide for consenting adults who are enduring “intolerable” physical or psychological suffering.  

Canada now joins such European nations as Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland, plus a handful of U.S. states, that permit physician-assisted suicide. But

Canada will be among a very few jurisdictions that sanction assisted suicide even when a person has a physical or psychological condition that may not be life threatening.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement that deplored assisted suicide and also entreated governments and courts to interpret the court decision “in its narrowest terms, resisting any calls to go beyond this to so called ‘acts of mercy’ and euthanasia.”

Helping someone commit suicide is “neither an act of justice or mercy, nor is it part of palliative care,” wrote Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the CCCB.

He was joined by several bishops across the country in objecting to the ruling, as well as several lay organizations, including the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, Campaign Life Coalition, the Catholic Civil Rights League, the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute,  REAL Women of Canada and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

Durocher stressed the court ruling does not change Catholic teaching regarding assisted suicide, which, according to the catechism, “constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, our Creator.”

“Catholics are called by their faith to assist all those in need, particularly the poor, the suffering and the dying,” wrote Durocher. “Comforting the dying and accompanying them in love and solidarity has been considered by the Church since its beginning a principal expression of Christian mercy.”

Michele Boulva, executive director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), called it an “extraordinarily sad day in the history of our country.”

“In the decision, the Supreme Court is giving some of us permission to kill,” she said. “We cannot overstate the gravity of the situation.”

Politicians need to hear from voters on this issue, said Moira McQueen, director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute.  The need is greater than ever for accessible palliative care, she said.

“Our elected officials need to hear from us,” she said. “Too many people say to me ‘the Church should do something!’ as if they are not part of the Church. We need to work together.”

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition called on Ottawa to use the notwithstanding clause to retain the ban on assisted suicide.

“The Supreme Court is naive to think that assisted suicide will not be abused, when abuse already occurs,” wrote Alex Schadenberg,  EPC executive director.

In overturning its 1993 decision which upheld the ban on assisted suicide, the Court ruled that existing Criminal Code provisions are an “unjustifiable” infringement on Section 7 of the Charter, which guarantees life, liberty and security of the person. In a 9-0 vote, the judges said the current total ban on assisted suicide is over broad and denies the option of physician-assisted death to people who lack the capacity to end their own lives.

The court said reversing its 1993 decision was justified due to changing social attitudes that have resulted in at least eight jurisdictions legalizing assisted suicide in the past two decades.

Campaign Life Coalition also urged invoking the notwithstanding clause.

“Canadians are afraid of dying a painful death, and we understand that, but the solution to suffering is not to be killed, it is proper pain management and proper support from the medical system, family and friends,” said Campaign Life’s public affairs officer Johanne Brownrigg.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition’s media representative Taylor Hyatt, who has cerebral palsy, said she was “extremely disappointed” by the decision. At worst, she thought the court might permit assisted death for terminal patients or for people at the end of their lives.

“Instead, it was specified that people with disabilities who believe their conditions to be non-terminal and insufferable could request assistance in ending their life,” she said. “That means me.”

The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada referred to studies that show safeguards are not always effective in jurisdictions where assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal. It said that it “sees no evidence to believe ‘suicide creep’ won’t also happen in Canada.”

 

Below is an edited compilation of reactions from across the country.

London Bishop Ronald Fabbro

I am greatly concerned about the ramifications of this decision and the effects it could have on our society. Countries, such as the Netherlands, that have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide are also witnessing as a direct result the abuse of the elderly and of people with disabilities.
It will be important for all of us to follow the steps that the government will take in the coming months with regard to introducing new legislation. We must act to uphold the dignity of every human life.

Moira McQueen, director, Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute

On hearing the news I tweeted “Direct killing can never be a ‘good’ for humanity.” I will never believe otherwise.
If physician-assisted suicide is a reality, there is more need than ever to work for accessible palliative care and good pain control, to help people die well, as well as more need than ever to work to maintain conscience rights for our health-care personnel.
I feel really sad today, but know we all just have to keep on witnessing to the importance of life.

Statement from the Catholic Civil Rights League

The Supreme Court has moved our country from a position where suicide was opposed outright, to a jurisdiction where suicide is to be made available on request, subject to future unknown conditions.
Parliament will need to give serious consideration to the Charter’s notwithstanding clause, to allow further time for serious reflection on the merits of what has been introduced as a new regime in Canada. A one year suspension in an election year is unreasonable.
While the Court has suspended its decision for one-year to allow legislatures and provincial health care professional colleges time to consider legislative changes, that timeframe may be insufficient to allow all of the various public institutions to address the challenging demands involved.

Statement from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

The bishops of our country invite Canadians, especially Catholics, to do all they can to bring comfort and support for all those who are dying and for their loved ones, so that no one, because of loneliness, vulnerability, loss of autonomy or fear of pain and suffering, feels they have no choice but to commit suicide.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops will continue to promote palliative and home care and to encourage all the faithful to work for the betterment of the elderly, the disabled, the ill and those who are socially isolated.

Jim Hughes, president, Campaign Life Coalition

Giving people the legal right to kill others in whatever state of life they are in is something Canadians must never support. This decision potentially puts people living with disabilities, the elderly and those who are terminally ill in greater risk of being abused and killed under the umbrella of “dying with dignity.” This is not acceptable.

Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith

We believe the current provisions in the Criminal Code prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia have served Canadians well, by protecting all persons, including those who are most vulnerable in our society. The law can only respect the inherent dignity of each Canadian life if it acknowledges that no one has the right to take action that would intentionally end another’s life.
We know that requests to die are often made as a cry for an end to suffering, and this cry is impossible to ignore for those who witness the suffering. But the compassionate response must be to provide social, emotional and spiritual support, and the best pain management and palliative care possible.

Alex Schadenberg, executive director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The Supreme Court is naïve to think that assisted suicide will not be abused, when abuse already occurs.
Giving doctors the right to cause the death of their patients will never be safe and no amount of so-called safeguards will protect those who live with depression or abuse. There will always be people who will abuse the power to cause death and there will always be more reasons to cause death.
Assisted suicide creates new paths of abuse for elders, people with disabilities and other socially devalued people.

Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller

I am deeply troubled by the Court’s decision to overturn the law, and I call on Catholics to join with other advocates for vulnerable persons to respond with urgency.
Until today, Canadian legislation has been designed to protect those inclined toward ending their lives. That protection has now been eliminated.

Amy Hasbrouck, director, Toujours Vivant — Not Dead Yet

We find this decision is the most destructive and least restrictive option in the world right now in terms of assisted suicide and euthanasia. We are extremely discouraged. The slippery slope that everybody talks about has already been launched. This court has removed the first brake.

Natalie Sonnen, executive director, Life Canada

What was once a criminal offence will become an acceptable medical practice. This decision affects every Canadian now and in the future. It will teach this generation and generations to come that some lives are not worth living, that killing patients can be a medical option, and that death at the hand of a doctor is somehow a human right.

(With files from Deborah Gyapong.)

Comments (2)

Good article and I echo the sentiments expressed by all who have grave concerns about euthanasia in Canada. Do we have to invoke the notwithstanding clause to protect depressed, disabled or non-terminally I'll people from being advised to legally...

Good article and I echo the sentiments expressed by all who have grave concerns about euthanasia in Canada. Do we have to invoke the notwithstanding clause to protect depressed, disabled or non-terminally I'll people from being advised to legally "suicide" ie. murdered by their own physicians?

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Good article and I echo the sentiments expressed by all who have grave concerns about euthanasia in Canada. Do we have to invoke the notwithstanding clause to protect depressed, disabled or non-terminally I'll people from being advised to legally...

Good article and I echo the sentiments expressed by all who have grave concerns about euthanasia in Canada. Do we have to invoke the notwithstanding clause to protect depressed, disabled or non-terminally I'll people from being advised to legally "suicide" ie. murdered by their own physicians?

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