Dr. Will Johnston

Supreme Court agrees to hear euthanasia appeal

  • January 22, 2014

OTTAWA - Opponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia are alarmed that the Supreme Court of Canada will hear a case that threatens to overturn the court’s rejection of assisted suicide 21 years ago.

The concerns were raised after the high court agreed to hear an appeal in the so-called Carter case. The family of Kay Carter, who died by assisted suicide in Switzerland in 2010, launched a suit in 2011 to make the practice legal in Canada. They scored a lower-court victory that struck down Canada’s laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide, but that decision was subsequently overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal.

Now the matter is headed to the Supreme Court and it is causing alarm among disabled Canadians and others who oppose assisted killing.

“The ongoing efforts to achieve assisted suicide by any means are escalating the level of anxiety experienced by people with disabilities,” said Tony Dolan, chairperson of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. “Imagine the emotional toll it takes on people with disabilities who keep hearing from assisted suicide campaigners that people who experience problems with toileting, feeding and other activities of daily living should have help to die.”

The disabilities’ council and the Canadian Association for Community Living, two of the nation’s largest groups advocating on behalf of people with disabilities and their families, had hoped the court would deny the appeal. Though it did not give a reason for hearing the appeal, the court did deny a request from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to expedite the hearing for the sake of ill persons who want an assisted suicide.

“People with disabilities, chronic illness and seniors are negatively affected by assisted suicide and euthanasia because it leads to the impression that our lives are lacking in meaning and value as compared to other Canadians,” said disability rights advocate Amy Hasbrouck of Toujours Vivant — Not Dead Yet.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, which intervened at both the B.C. Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal, has announced it will seek leave to intervene before Canada’s highest court.

“(The coalition) is concerned about the safety, security and equality of people with disabilities and seniors, which is central to the protections set out under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our Criminal Code,” said coalition legal counsel Hugh Scher in a release.

Dr. Wi l l Johnston, chair of the coalit ion’s B.C. branch, pointed out the court rejected assisted suicide and euthanasia in the 1993 Rodriguez decision, which “prevented Canada from taking a wrong turn.”

“In the 20 years since, human nature has not changed, our poor record of predicting the dying process has not changed, and vulnerable people are still at risk in our health care system,” said Johnston.

“Euthanasia activists continue to confuse the public about turning off ventilators, which has little to do with the issue.

“We are getting better at controlling symptoms, and we have seen the abuses of euthanasia in those few jurisdictions where this practice has become entrenched, two good reasons to continue to avoid euthanasia and assisted suicide in our Canada. Let us hope that by clarifying the issues, the Supreme Court once again confirms the Canadian rejection of suicide and direct killing of the sick, and that we stay the course in providing great symptom control to all who need it.”

Justice Minister Peter MacKay and Health Minister Rona Ambrose have both said the government has no interest in re-opening the debate. In 2010, Parliament by a wide margin defeated a Bloc Quebecois MP’s bill in favour of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Quebec’s Parti Quebecois government is pushing through Bill-52 that tries to sidestep the Criminal Code, which is federal jurisdiction, by including lethal injections as part of health care, which is provincial, under the name “medical aid in dying.”

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