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Alex Schadenberg

Assisted suicide can proceed, appeal court rules

  • September 9, 2020

OTTAWA -- A Nova Scotia appeal court has cleared the way for an elderly Nova Scotia man to kill himself with the help of a doctor.

The appeal court ruling Sept. 4 effectively allows the husband to proceed with an assisted suicide through Canada’s medical assistance in dying (MAiD) system, even though his wife is trying to stop him from going through with his plan to kill himself.

The court decision has effectively ended a temporary injunction against the husband’s legal suicide, which had been approved by a MAiD review panel, and means the man can be put to death legally before an already scheduled Sept. 24 court hearing seeking a permanent injunction to stop the assisted suicide.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC), which is financing the wife’s challenge, and her lawyer, Hugh Scher, are critical of the logic behind allowing the temporary injunction to be lifted when there is another court hearing set.

“To schedule a hearing on the merits of the injunction for Sept. 24 and then lift the temporary injunction on Sept. 4, allowing him to die by lethal injection, makes a mockery of justice,” said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the EPC.

Scher said conflicting medical opinions about the state of the husband’s health need to be fully vetted before any assisted suicide should be allowed to proceed.

“The notion that individuals should be free to see 10 doctors who find they lack capacity, but then find two more that say they don’t, to justify an assisted death is troubling and renders the safeguards and protections of the criminal law completely meaningless,” he said in a statement after the ruling.

Nova Scotia Justice Elizabeth Van den Eynden said in her decision the law allows for a legal assisted suicide in Canada and the case amounts “to wanting to relitigate issues that have been considered and decided by both the (Supreme Court of Canada) and Parliament.”

The bitter legal dispute featured duelling medical opinions about the state of the husband’s medical condition and mental health and what appears to be an unbridgeable rift within the marriage of the two seniors in their early 80s.

The wife in the case claims her husband should not qualify for an assisted death because he does not suffer from a life-threatening illness and he isn’t mentally competent to request the procedure.

Her husband has countered, through his lawyer, that he is ill with advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and is of sound mind to make his own choice to have the procedure.

Scher, who has stressed there are “multiple medical opinions” concerning the husband’s health, said his client wants Parliament, Nova Scotia’s legislature and the courts “to fix an arbitrary and broken legal process that permits the intentional killing by euthanasia of those who lack capacity and who don’t meet the most basic requirements of the law.”

“The Supreme Court of Canada made clear that legalization of euthanasia in Canada depended completely on Parliament’s ability to implement reasonable safeguards to protect the most vulnerable of Canadians,” Scher said.

“Today’s decision by a single judge of a court of appeal on a procedural matter demonstrates how woefully inadequate the present regime and procedures are to protect vulnerable people lacking capacity from being put to death in Canada,” he said.

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