Canadian Court Shoots Down Assisted Suicide Lawsuit

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 18, 2011   |   7:16PM   |   Vancouver, Canada

A court in the Canadian province of British Columbia shot down a lawsuit from a pro-assisted suicide group seeking to legalize so-called “self-chosen death” and said it did not have a strong enough challenge to the Criminal Code.

Justice Lynn Smith ruled Wednesday against the Farewell Foundation for the Right To Die, based in New Westminster, British Columbia, and said the unnamed individuals do not have legal standing to challenge the law. Now, the pro-assisted suicide group plans to come back with a new case naming people who want to challenge the statute. The law stands from a ruling 20 years ago in the case of Sue Rodriguez, who had ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and determined she wanted to take her own life.

“The Farewell Foundation tried something new and today we learned that that is not possible,” foundation director Russel Ogden told reporters, according to the National Post newspaper.

The foundation claims times have changed since the Rodriguez case and it wants Section 241(b) of the Criminal Code overturned — as it currently calls for a maximum of 14 years in prison for assisted a suicide in Canada.

The newspaper reports Justice Smith invited the pro-euthanasia group to join the B.C. Civil Liberties Association’s case as an intervenor. The organization is seeking to allow assisted suicide and has filed a case for Gloria Taylor, a Kelowna, British Columbia resident who has ALS. The cases are slightly different as Taylor case seeks to allow physician-assisted suicide and the Farewell Foundation case wanted non-physician assisted suicide allowed as well.

“It’s not an overwhelming victory, but it’s an opportunity for us to move our interests forward and that’s what we always wanted to do,” Ogden said of the decision to allow it to join the second case. “There are thousands of Canadians that are suffering and we have an opportunity to advance the interests of those Canadians.”

Wesley J. Smith, a California-based bioethics attorney, commented on the decision.

“An attempt to create a right to medical and non medical assisted suicide–in reality, all assisted suicides are non medical regardless of a doctor’s participation–has been thrown out of court,” he said. “The “Farewell Foundation” will intervene in another lawsuit intended to overrule the Rodriguez case, that found no constitutional right to assisted suicide in Canada. Since precedent means little anymore when a desired outcome is, well, desired, who can blame the assisted suicide crowd from trying again?”

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition director Alex Schadenberg says “The fact is that legalizing assisted suicide threatens people with disabilities and other vulnerable people who are already devalued by society. Negative attitudes and perceptions of people with disabilities will create subtle pressure that they “choose” assisted suicide. But since when was this issue ever about choice?”

“It is not based on autonomy because assisted suicide requires the direct and intentional involvement of another person. It is not simply another choice, it is really about how society would directly and intentionally cause the death of people,” he says.