The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the Criminal Code provisions against physician assisted suicide. Photo/Wikimedia Commons via D. Gordon E. Robertson (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Government in no rush to act in wake of historic Supreme Court decision

By 
  • February 6, 2015

Despite calls for quick and decisive action from opponents of the Supreme Court ruling that legalized physician-assisted suicide, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the government has no intention of acting hastily.

Canada’s highest court gave federal and provincial governments a year to draft legislation to regulate physician-assisted suicide for consenting adults who are enduring “intolerable” physical or psychological suffering. The ruling does not require a person’s condition to be terminal to request assisted dying.

The government must decide whether to draft Criminal Code amendments or to do nothing and leave the issue as a health-care matter to be regulated by the provinces. A third option is to become the first federal government to ever invoke the notwithstanding clause and thereby retain the current ban on assisted suicide.  

“There is a wide and obviously very emotional range of perspectives on this issue, but (the decision) has very far-reaching implications,” MacKay was quoted in Ottawa. “We intend to take the time to look at this decision carefully, and thoughtfully.”

The Catholic Civil Rights League, Campaign Life Coalition and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition all called on the government to invoke the notwithstanding clause, Section 33 of the Charter which gives a government the right to nullify a court ruling.

“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,” said a statement from the Catholic Civil Rights League. “While the Court has suspended its decision for one year . . . that timeframe may be insufficient to allow all of the various public institutions to address the challenging demands involved.”

Drafting comprehensive legislation in 12 months will be difficult in an election year, said the CCRL. A federal election is expected in October. The CCRL pointed out Parliament has held six votes on assisted suicide in the past two decades and every one rejected proposals to change the law.

“In fact, in 2011 and in 2012 Parliament gave its near unanimous support for a national anti-suicide prevention policy. The Supreme Court has now undercut such legislative enactments,” said the CCRL.

Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller called for legislation that will “provide all possible legal safeguards for those who are vulnerable to suicide.” He said the Supreme Court “erred grievously in stripping them of protection that the law afforded them against assisted suicide.”

 

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

London, Ont., 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 (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

In 1990, I was talking to a funeral director in downtown Toronto. He said Torontonians 'have no idea' how many people committed suicide every week.
As for euthanasia, there are so many good health supplements including coconut oil with Omega 3...

In 1990, I was talking to a funeral director in downtown Toronto. He said Torontonians 'have no idea' how many people committed suicide every week.
As for euthanasia, there are so many good health supplements including coconut oil with Omega 3 for dementia, and stem cell therapy. (Gordie Howe)

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