OTTAWA, July 16, 2012 – The Catholic Civil Rights League is pleased to learn that the federal government will appeal last month’s BC Supreme Court ruling in Carter v Canada that struck down Canada’s ban on assisted suicide (League press releases, June 15). The League and many other organizations had urged the government to appeal.  

In a statement July 13, federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the government intends to seek a stay on all aspects of the ruling, including the exemption for plaintiff Gloria Taylor, while it goes to the BC Court of Appeal.  Mrs. Taylor, a BC resident, suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease and said she wants a doctor’s help to die before the illness progresses to the point that she can no longer care for 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,” said Mr. Nicholson. “The government also objects to the lower court’s decision to grant a ‘constitutional exemption’ resembling a regulatory framework for assisted suicide.“

At the time of the decision, the League noted that the court “has ignored the existing precedent of the Supreme Court of Canada, from the Rodriguez decision from 1993.  The Court’s ruling has trivialized the serious concerns about the impact of the liberalization of assisted suicide laws, and the impact on those with severe or costly disabilities to make use of that option.  There is little comfort for doctors who may be asked to participate in such requests contrary to their conscientious rights.”

When Parliament last voted on this issue (on Bill C-384, in 2010), the proposal for liberalization was defeated by a vote of 228 to 59 due to concerns about the potential for abuse of seniors  and people with disabilities, the lack of an effective national suicide prevention strategy, and the lack of access to good palliative care in Canada.  Little if anything has changed since that vote, so it is of particular concern that a court overruled what Parliament so recently voted.

It is also unfortunate that the ruling implied that suicide is a constitutional right when Parliament  has identified it as a national tragedy.  Bill 300, for example, which aims to coordinate and strengthen the work of suicide prevention agencies, reached the Senate just before the decision in Carter was delivered.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, of which the League is an institutional member, intervened in the case and will seek intervention standing in the appeal.

–    Could media be on the side of life in this case? League column in The Catholic Register,
–    Text of decision in Carter v Canada, Supreme Court of BC, June 15, 2012