Euthanasia no way to promote human rights, dignity, coalition argues

  • September 5, 2014

Killing off the old, the infirm and the disabled won’t promote the human rights, dignity or freedom of anybody, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition argues in a factum submitted to the Supreme Court of Canada Aug. 28.

The London, Ont.-based Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is one of 15 intervenors who will argue the constitutional standing of Criminal Code provisions against assisted suicide in the Carter v. Canada case Oct. 15. Eight of the intervenors are arguing against legalizing doctor-supervised eu-thanasia.

Physician-assisted suicide is “fundamentally inconsistent with the principles of autonomy and choice and undermines the dignity and value of (disabled people’s) lives at their most vulnerable point,” says the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition factum.

For the disabled, a legal, medical option for suicide brings back “devaluing stereotypes and prejudices” which once gave us “forced sterilization, eugenics and medical experimentation,” the lawyers argue. The British Columbia Supreme Court decision that laws against assisted suicide contravened the Charter of Rights “improperly assumes a constitu-tional right to commit suicide and creates a class of people for whom death is perceived as not only ac-ceptable but desirable based on subjective quality of life assess-ments,” according to the 10-page factum.

“Euthanasia and related end of-life practices has formed part of the history of discrimination towards people with disabilities,” argue lawyers Hugh Scher and Geoffrey Cowper on behalf of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

The EPC asks for a further 10 minutes to make oral arguments before the Supreme Court.

In addition to arguing that legalized euthanasia would create an atmosphere of lethal discrimi-nation against people with dis-abilities, the EPC states that the slippery slope is real. Places such as Oregon and Belgium, where assisted suicide is legal, have been unable to prevent euthana-sia without consent or an assisted suicide regime that includes the depressed and mentally ill, according to the legal argument.

Finally, the EPC factum claims any change in the law is the responsibility of Parliament and not the courts. The EPC quotes former Supreme Court Justice Charles Gonthier back to the court in arguing that “a court should not interfere with legislation merely because a judge might have chosen a different means of accomplishing the objective if he or she had been a legislator.”

Meanwhile, Quebec’s anti-euthanasia doctor’s organization, which also has intervenor status before the court, has no time to win public support for its cause. All energy is now focused on persuading Supreme Court judges.

“If we don’t win at the Supreme Court there’s not much good in winning the public, because the game’s over then,” said Dr. Catherine Ferrier, president of the Physicians Alliance for Total Refusal of Euthanasia.

Winning at the Supreme Court won’t be the end of the court battles over euthanasia. The Physicians Alliance is also challeng-ing Quebec’s new law which seeks to legalize physician-assisted suicide by defining it as medical treatment.

But Ferrier is aware legal victories won’t last if public opinion remains in favour of euthanasia.

“The right to die movement has been working on this for a very long time. Our group, the Physicians Alliance, has existed for two years. Vivre dans la Dignite (a Quebec anti-euthanasia group) has existed for four years,” said Ferrier. “Euthanasia hit the news in Quebec in 2009. We’ve been playing catch-up since then, because the stage was already set.

“We have to put a lot of energy into the juridical side, but if we win there are for sure two big fields of work (remaining). One is public opinion and the other is improving end-of-life care so people don’t feel they need it so much.” 

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