Canada Appeals Decision Striking Law Banning Assisted Suicide

International   Steven Ertelt   Jul 13, 2012   |   3:22PM    Ottawa, Canada

Canadian officials have appealed the decision by a British Columbia judge striking down the nation’s prohibition on assisted suicide.

The British Columbia Supreme Court, in June, issued an opinion declaring the law in Canada against assisted suicides unconstitutional. Justice Lynn Smith issued a 395-page ruling calling the law discriminatory in the case of Gloria Taylor, a British Columbia woman with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Taylor was one of five plaintiff’s seeking to strike the law and Judge Smith agree with her saying that, because suicide itself is not illegal, assisted suicides should not be illegal either. Judge Smith said the law contravenes Section 15 of the Charter, which guarantees equality, because it denies the ability to disabled people to kill themselves in the same way an able-bodied person could.

Now, the federal government has announced an appeal of the decision, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson. In his statement, he said the government hopes for a stay on all parts of the ruling — including the one-year rewrite portion and the portion allowing Taylor an exemption to the law so she can kill herself.

“The government is of the view that the Criminal Code provisions that prohibit medical professionals, or anyone else, from counseling or providing assistance in a suicide, are constitutionally valid,” he said. “The government also objects to the lower court’s decision to grant a ’constitutional exemption’ resembling a regulatory framework for assisted suicide.”

“The laws surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide exist to protect all Canadians, including those who are most vulnerable, such as people who are sick or elderly or people with disabilities,” he added, saying, the government would not issue additional public commentary on the case until it is decided.

Alex Schadenberg, the leading campaigner against assisted suicide in Canada, applauded the government’s decision.

“The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) applauds the decision by Justice Minister, Hon Rob Nicholson, who today announced the appeal of the decision by Justice Lynn Smith in the Carter decision in BC. The Carter decision legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada, while giving Gloria Taylor a constitutional exemption to be killed by euthanasia or assisted suicide within 12 months,” he said.

Schadenberg continued:  “EPC is pleased that Justice Minister Nicholson appealed the disturbing decision by Justice Smith. Minister Nicholson has also appealed the “constitutional exemption” that was given to Gloria Taylor, that he referred to as a “regulatory framework for assisted suicide. The decision by Justice Smith needs to be overturned because legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide is simply not safe.EPC continues to promote the Care of every Canadian while opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide.”

Smith wrote in the decision: “The impact of that distinction is felt particularly acutely by persons such as Ms. Taylor, who are grievously and irremediably ill, physically disabled or soon to become so, mentally competent and who wish to have some control over their circumstances at the end of their lives. The distinction is discriminatory … because it perpetuates disadvantage.”

Smith, ironically, also claimed the law violated the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Section 7 of the Charter by claiming the assisted suicide ban could prompt people to take their lives while they’re physically able to do so.

At the time, Will Johnston of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition immediately critiqued the ruling and the group had sided with federal and provincial governments in opposing the case to strike the law. He urged Canadian officials to appeal the decision to the BC Court of Appeal and to seek an order stopping the decision from taking effect and nullifying the law until that appeal is heard.

“Most elder abuse is hidden from view – and if we can’t detect the abuse now, how are we going to do it when the stakes are raised? I have seen how easily influenced older people can be, and how inadequate are our national strategies against suicide. The present decision, which should be immediately appealed and corrected, is a huge step backwards, a blow to public safety, and would force changes in public policy which would do more harm than good,” he explained.

He added: “Today’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. The wish to avoid Oregon’s mistakes has been reflected in over 100 rejections of assisted suicide by legislatures in North America and by medical associations around the world.”

According to the CBC, “Donnaree Nygard, the lawyer for the attorney general of Canada, argued the good of alleviating suffering is outweighed by the probability of wrongful death. She said those who are particularly vulnerable are the elderly, disabled, and people who may worry about being a “burden to society” and safeguards are not effectively protecting vulnerable people in jurisdictions where assisted suicide is already allowed.”

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The Federal Parliament of Canada recently considered legalization of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in a bill that came before the House in 2010. Bill C-384 was overwhelmingly defeated based upon concerns related to the prospect of the abuse of seniors, people with disabilities, the lack of an effective national suicide prevention strategy, and the lack of access to good palliative care in Canada.