OTTAWA - The lawyer arguing the Attorney General of Canada's case against legalization of assisted suicide said the court has already spoken on the matter and its previous decision "is still good law."

Published in Canada

GATINEAU, QUE. - As the Supreme Court of Canada prepares to hear arguments Oct. 15 on assisted suicide, activists against euthanasia warn of the zeal of their opponents. 

Published in Canada

BEAUPRÉ, QUE. - Canada's bishops will launch a national campaign this fall to combat a push in Canada to legalize euthanasia.

Published in Canada

With the Supreme Court of Canada preparing to hear arguments on assisted suicide in October, Quebec's anti-euthanasia doctors have no time to win public support for their cause. All their energy is focused on persuading Supreme Court judges.

Published in Canada

MANCHESTER, England - The leaders of Britain's faith communities have united to warn Parliament against the "grave error" of legalizing assisted suicide.

Published in International
June 11, 2014

Put words in action

Seldom does the House of Commons speak as one voice. So Parliament’s recent near-unanimous support of a motion to make palliative care a national priority was encouraging and welcomed. Yet the roar will quickly fade to a whisper without sincere government action to turn this rare cross-party unanimity into meaningful legislation. 

Published in Editorial
January 30, 2013

Killing is not care

The Criminal Code, Parliament and the Supreme Court have been consistent and clear on the matter of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Both offences are serious crimes as prescribed in law and as upheld in various votes by the nation’s top legislative and judicial bodies. Yet the Province of Quebec is bulling ahead with a chilling attempt to circumvent the law by decriminalizing euthanasia through a legislative sleight-of-hand.

In mid-January, the PQ government of Pauline Marois trumpeted a report suggesting doctors should sometimes be allowed to kill patients. Naturally, that is not how the report is worded. It speaks of “medically aided death” and suggests that euthanasia is just another “part of the continuum of care” provided by doctors. So on some days doctors will deliver a baby, or remove tonsils, or treat cancer, and on other days they will deliver care by killing the patient.

This is an offensive notion, of course, and it must be opposed forcefully by society in general and by the federal government in particular.

By June, Quebec is expected to propose legislation to declare euthanasia is a medical procedure and therefore strictly a provincial matter beyond the reach of the Criminal Code or Parliament interference. Assumedly, the Quebec government has lawyers who feel confident in making that argument even though it strikes most reasonable people as far-fetched to claim killing someone can be equated with providing them with medical care.

This legislative end-around follows a resounding rejection two years ago of a private member’s euthanasia bill introduced by Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde. She lost that vote 250-57. The Supreme Court had rejected euthanasia in a 1993 decision. Two years after that, a senate committee concluded euthanasia should remain a criminal offence. Although euthanasia is legal in some countries, Canada, to its credit, has consistently rejected it.

Even Quebecers are unconvinced. The “Dying With Dignity” committee crossed the province for two years hearing submissions. Sixty per cent of people or groups opposed euthanasia. Many doctors are appalled that their oath to “do no harm” could be perverted to countenance killing.

“This act is abhorrent to us as doctors and should appall Quebecers who care about social justice and building communities that care about the most vulnerable,” said Dr. Catherine Ferrier, spokesperson for a group called The Physicians’ Alliance for Total Refusal of Euthanasia.

Instead of writing laws to kill sick and suffering people, politicians in Quebec and across Canada should be increasing the number and improving the quality of palliative care centres. Euthanasia is a deplorable solution for old age, illness and infirmity. The focus should be on providing comfort and care, and building a society that treats all life with dignity and respect.

 

Published in Editorial

WASHINGTON - Massachusetts voters narrowly defeated a "death with dignity" measure, rejecting attempts to legalize assisted suicide, while in California, an initiative to end the use of the death penalty was defeated as well in another close vote.

The Massachusetts initiative, known as Question 2, was defeated by fewer than 39,000 votes — 1,395,227 to 1,356,899 — with the largest opposition rising in counties in the centre of the state and those north and south of Boston.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston was pleased with the outcome, saying the common good was served in the measure's defeat.

"The campaign against physician-assisted suicide brought together a diverse coalition from medical, disability rights and interfaith communities, all dedicated to ensuring that our residents were well informed on the issue," he said in an e-mailed statement.

The cardinal called upon wider society to work with hospice organizations and palliative care providers "to improve the care provided to the terminally ill."

"It is my hope and prayer that the defeat of Question 2 will help all people to understand that for our brothers and sisters confronted with terminal illness we can do better than offering them the means to end their lives."

The measure may have generated the widest debate of any statewide ballot issue in the country. The initiative would have allowed terminally ill adults to commit physician-assisted suicide under certain conditions.

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference, Massachusetts Medical Society and disability rights groups opposed it.

Under the proposal, patients estimated to have six months or fewer to live and judged medically capable to make a medical decision could decide to end their lives after submitting such a request twice orally and once in writing.

In video and written messages on the Massachusetts Catholic Conference web site, O'Malley urged voters to reject the measure, saying it would place vulnerable people at risk and that it promotes suicide.

California voters rejected Proposition 34, which would have repealed the death penalty clause in the state constitution, by 52.6 per cent to 47.4 per cent. Inmates already facing a death sentence would have been resentenced to life in prison without parole under the measure.

With 95 per cent of the vote counted early Nov. 7, the tally stood at about 4.7 million opposed to the death penalty ban and nearly 4.2 million in favour of it.

Proponents of the measure said banning capital punishment would have ended the possibility of an innocent person being put to death for a crime. They also projected that California would have saved $130 million annually by ending capital punishment. The measure called for a one-time expenditure of $100 million for solving major crimes.

Opponents, including law enforcement officers and three former governors, maintained that the savings estimates were overblown and that the state's onerous death penalty system is in need of repair and should not be replaced.

The California Catholic Conference backed Proposition 34, saying that the inherent dignity of each person must be upheld and that even people convicted of any serious crime must not be put to death. The church also called for wide-scale restorative justice efforts to afford the opportunity for repentance and reconciliation among the affected individuals.

In Florida, voters defeated an amendment to the state constitution that would have prohibited public funding of abortion services or insurance coverage that covered abortions and also would have allowed legislation to restore parental consent for a minor less than the age of 16 to have an abortion.

Amendment 6 failed, by a 55 to 45 per cent margin.

A second constitutional amendment that would have lifted a ban on public funds going directly or indirectly to any church or religious denomination for the delivery of social services also was defeated by a similar margin, 55.5 per cent to 44.5 per cent.

In Montana, voters approved by more than 2-1 a referendum that would require parental approval of a minor child's abortion.

Published in International

OTTAWA - Groups opposing euthanasia have expressed alarm over a B.C. judge's recent ruling that allows Gloria Taylor, a B.C. woman dying of a degenerative nerve disorder, a constitutional exemption to an assisted suicide should her symptoms worsen in the next year.

Taylor, one of the plaintiffs in the controversial Carter case decided last June, had been granted the exemption when B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith struck down Canada's laws against assisted suicide and euthanasia as unconstitutional on Charter grounds. Smith ruled the laws would be kept in force for a year so Parliament can react with new legislation, but allowed Taylor the exemption while the law is still in force.

In July, the federal government appealed the Carter decision, including the constitutional exemption.

On Aug. 10, B.C. Justice Jo-Ann Prowse, however, ruled removing the exemption would cause Taylor "irreparable harm" by taking away the solace and peace of mind of knowing she could obtain an assisted suicide and by removing her ability to have one before her symptoms became unbearable.

"The suggestion that denying Ms. Taylor the exemption would have caused her irreparable harm is absurd," said Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) assistant director Peter Murphy. "Surely to kill or to facilitate killing is to do irreparable harm.

"Do we really want to live in country where individual judges hold the keys to life and death?" he asked. "The value of human life can never be measured by some subjective notion of its quality."

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) executive director Alex Schadenberg questioned whether judges were "overstepping" their bounds. He pointed out the Supreme Court of Canada upheld Parliament's laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide in the 1993 Rodriguez case. Sue Rodriguez, who also had ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, found an anonymous doctor who helped her end her life in 1994.

"It appears to me that judges are trying to make decisions that fit what they want rather than the law and judicial precedence," Schadenberg said. "They're writing their laws, their own script, and it's very concerning to me."

The Carter decision will be argued before the B.C. Court of Appeal March 4-8, 2013 and many have argued the constitutional exemption is an exception only for Taylor. But Schadenberg pointed out that others may seek exemptions under the principle of equality before the law.

"Other people who fit the criteria would have to be taken seriously," he said, noting he expected lawyers in the Ginette LeBlanc case to be argued in Quebec this December to ask for one. LeBlanc also suffers from ALS.

"Technically, the law has not changed. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are still completely illegal. Rodriquez is still upheld," Schadenberg said.

"But a judge is saying it is okay in this circumstance, the laws do not apply. It's not about Parliament, not about the Supreme Court, it's about a single judge. We're putting the power of life and death in the hands of a judge or a doctor."

Schadenberg said the federal  Attorney General can appeal this latest ruling on the constitutional exemption and urged Canadians to let Justice Minister Rob Nicholson know they want him to do so.

Schadenberg said that assisted suicide is the intentional killing of a human being.

"That's homicide," he said. "We are creating an exception to murder."

Published in Canada

Canadians and Britons are more open to physician-assisted suicide than Americans, a recent poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion has found.

Eighty per cent of Canadians and 77 per cent of the English said that doctors should be allowed to assist terminally ill, fully informed and competent patients to kill themselves. But only 56 per cent of Americans agreed.

The poll found 10 per cent of Canadians and nine per cent of Britons firmly opposed to physician-assisted suicide no matter who asks for it. Nearly one third — 29 per cent — of Americans said it should never be allowed. On the flip side, three-quarters of Canadians and Britons said physician-assisted suicide should always be allowed under specific circumstances, whereas only half of Americans thought so.

The problem with polls is that few respondents understand what’s meant by physician-assisted suicide, said Rita Marker, Patient Rights Council executive director.

“Those who are answering this poll could be viewing it as removing life support,” she said in an interview from Steubenville, Ohio. The Patient Rights Council is independent, but closely aligned with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Murky notions of palliative care and its availability fuel a fear-based response to polls on physician-assisted suicide in Canada, said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

“Most Canadians support euthanasia or assisted suicide because they fear dying in pain or experiencing uncontrolled symptoms,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. “Fear is a normal human response and it should be respected.”

The poll reveals nothing new about British attitudes to physician-assisted suicide, said Charles Wookey, assistant general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

“So far as the UK is concerned, in terms of opinion surveys this doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “What we’re seeing here to a degree is an instinctive, compassionate response from a society that prizes individual autonomy very highly.”

The Angus-Reid survey found 86 per cent of Canadians, 84 per cent of Britons and 69 per cent of Americans agree with the statement that “Legalizing doctor-assisted suicide would give people who are suffering an opportunity to ease their pain.”

People who believe laws against assisted suicide protect the vulnerable from social, economic and medical pressure to commit suicide face a major education challenge, said Wookey.

“It means there’s a very, very clear job for the Church to do, particularly in secular society,” he said.

But the Church can’t do it without allies, according to Wookey.

“What’s essential in this debate in this country is for it to be conducted in secular terms,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate fact that the religious argument or arguments based on the appeal to faith tend clearly not to persuade people who do not share the faith. They invite the response, ‘Don’t impose your faith-based views on the rest of us.’ ”

British bishops have teamed up with disability rights organizations and palliative care professionals to form an alliance called Care Not Killing — a purely secular platform to engage the public policy debate.

“When people are taken through the arguments and begin to understand first of all the quality of palliative care and what palliative care can provide, and secondly what the public policy consequences are for the most vulnerable members of society of a change in the law — what it might actually lead to — then very many people do actually change their minds,” said Wookey.

Getting people educated about the issue is essential because without a full debate economic issues will enter the equation, said Marker.

“We have to recognize the fact that all health programs are trying to save money,” she said. “By trying to save money the question is, will those health programs — if you say assisted suicide is a medical treatment — will they then do the right thing or the cheap thing?”

In Canada, availability and understanding of palliative care is key, said Schadenberg. He points to a 2010 Environics poll  that found 71 per cent of Canadians want governments to prioritize palliative care over euthanasia and assisted suicide. The 2011 Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care report Not To Be Forgotten is a start, he said.

“The real answer is to care for the needs of Canadians who are living with terminal conditions, chronic pain or disabilities,” said Schadenberg.

Angus-Reid’s online survey polled 1,003 Americans, 2,019 Britons and 1,003 Canadians between July 4 and 5. The margin of statistical error is plus or minus 2.2 per cent for Great Britain and plus or minus 3.1 per cent for Canada and the United States.

Published in Canada

OTTAWA- The federal government has announced it will appeal the June 15 British Columbia Supreme Court Carter decision that struck down Canada's laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide.

"After careful consideration of the legal merits," the Government of Canada will appeal the Carter decision to the British Columbia Court of Appeal and seek "a stay of all aspects of the lower court decision," said Justice Minister and Attorney General Rob Nicholson in a July 13 statement, released on a Friday afternoon shortly before the July 16 deadline for filing an appeal.

Published in Canada

The parallels between abortion and euthanasia or assisted suicide are often cited during debates, especially by those who recall the role played by the media and the courts in first liberalizing Canada’s abortion laws and later eliminating them.  But over the past few weeks we have seen a striking difference emerge. 

Decades ago, almost all media outlets supported liberalization of abortion laws. In recent weeks, however, media reaction to a B.C. court decision striking down Canada’s assisted suicide laws has  been anything but unanimous. Even editorials supportive of the decision have acknowledged the vulnerability of the elderly and disabled, and pointed out the potential for abuse through a more liberal law.

Opposing the court decision, the Vancouver Province said, “Allowing doctors to kill patients nearing the end of their lives, even with their consent, cheapens the sanctity of life, no matter how horrible the disease a patient is suffering from.”

Published in Joanne McGarry

Tragedy at a Montreal psychiatric facility should stop proponents of  medicalized killing dead in their tracks.

On June 16, one day after the B.C. Supreme Court struck down Canada’s laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide, someone in the high security psychiatric unit of the Centre Hospitalier Université de Montréal asphyxiated a patient. On June 21, a second patient was suffocated.

But here’s the thing: neither death was recognized as a homicide, let alone raised alarm bells, until the next day when an attempt to choke a third patient to death was foiled. A former slaughterhouse worker with a lengthy history of violent crime, who checked himself into the ward the very day the first patient was killed, was charged June 27.

Published in Peter Stockland

OTTAWA - Canada’s bishops have expressed dismay over a B.C. Supreme Court decision June 15 to strike down Criminal Code provisions against euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“I strongly urge the government to appeal this extremely flawed and dangerous ruling,” said Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller in a statement released the day of the decision.

The government has until July 16 to file a notice of appeal.

Published in Canada

And so it begins.

The B.C. Supreme Court has overruled Parliament to decree it lawful for a doctor to kill Gloria Taylor. Canada’s first legal physician-assisted suicide will occur when (and if) Taylor decides to proceed, despite Criminal Code statutes forbidding assisted suicide and valid concerns that Canada is on a slippery slope towards indiscriminate euthanasia.

According to the legal logic of Madam Justice Lynn Smith, a disabled person’s constitutional rights must include an equal opportunity to commit suicide. Suicide is legal in Canada but aiding suicide is not. But when illness or disability makes someone physically incapable of killing themselves, they deserve a helping hand,  Smith ruled.

Published in Editorial