Gloria Taylor’s lawyer Joseph Arvay tells reporters his client is relieved with the court’s decision. Photo by Nathan Rumohr

Bishops demand appeal of B.C. euthansia ruling

  • June 21, 2012

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.

Justice Lynn Smith struck down the anti-assisted suicide and euthanasia provisions as unconstitutional on Charter grounds. In a 395-page decision, Smith said the laws violate the Charter’s protections of life, liberty and security under section 7. She also wrote the law violates the Charter’s equality provisions in Section 15, since it is legal to commit suicide, but the key plaintiff in the case, Gloria Taylor, 64, has Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS, and could not commit suicide without assistance.

Smith suspended the decision for a year to give Parliament a chance to revisit the legislation, though Taylor was granted an immediate exemption. She has told media she has made no decision on whether she will pursue assisted suicide.

The federal government is reviewing the decision, said Justice Minister Rob Nicholson’s press secretary Julie Di Mambro.

Archbishop Richard Smith, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a June 18 statement, asked: “Do we show concern for the sick, the elderly, the handicapped and vulnerable by encouraging them to commit suicide or through deliberately killing them by euthanasia? Or, instead, do we fashion a culture of life and love in which each person, at every moment and in all circumstances of their natural lifespan, is treasured as a gift?”

Miller said the decision “reflects a distorted view of equality rights that emphasizes autonomy over human dignity and the value of life.”

“True liberty means the freedom to live one’s life secure in the knowledge that those who care for us are dedicated to the service of life, not the taking of life,” Miller said. “We have been down this road many times around the world, and all the safeguards initially put in place wind up either disregarded or eventually dispensed with.

“The result is euthanasia harms not only those whose lives are taken, but those responsible for taking them,” he said.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) also called for the decision to be appealed. EPC executive director Alex Schadenberg noted that Parliament in 2010 had overwhelmingly defeated Bill C-384 that proposed to allow euthanasia and assisted suicide. 

“Today’s court decision is fundamentally at odds with the will of Parliament as expressed just months ago,” he said.

“The prohibition of physician-assisted suicide upholds the dignity of each human person, regardless of disability,” said Catholic Civil Rights League executive director Joanne McGarry. “It is no more legal for an able-bodied person to request a physician to assist in one’s suicide than it is for someone who cannot end his or her life without assistance. 

“The Court has ignored the existing precedent of the Supreme Court of Canada, from the Rodriguez decision from 1993. The court’s ruling has trivialized the serious concerns about the impact of the liberalization of assisted suicide laws, and the impact on those with severe or costly disabilities to make use of that option.”

McGarry also warned about the dangers to the conscientious rights of physicians who may be approached to carry out assisted suicide requests should the decision stand.

EPC-BC representative Dr. William Johnston said the court’s decision “would point Canada towards the Oregon assisted suicide regime, which has become notorious for its erosion of medical standards and abuse of psychiatry to rubber-stamp suicide requests.”

“If accepted this ruling today places people who are already in a disadvantaged situation due to their health limitations in a drastically more vulnerable position,” said LifeCanada executive director Natalie Hudson Sonnen. “We do no service to Canadians by placing even more power into the hands of doctors to make life-and-death decisions. Elder abuse and poor suicide prevention are already a huge concern in Canada. We should be providing Canadians with more protection, not opening the doors to killing people.”

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