VANCOUVER, BC June 15, 2012 – Today’s ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court calling for liberalization of Canada’s assisted suicide laws devalues the lives of the disabled and is not in keeping with how Parliament has voted on the issue, says the Catholic Civil Rights League.

In a 395-page ruling in the case of Carter v. AG Canada,  Justice Lynn Smith said the ban on assisted suicide is unconstitutional.  Since suicide itself is not illegal, she wrote, the current law discriminates against the disabled who cannot end their own lives without assistance.  This, she reasoned, violates the equality section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

“The prohibition of physician-assisted suicide upholds the dignity of each human person, regardless of disability,” notes League Executive Director Joanne McGarry.  “It is no more legal for an able-bodied person to request a physician to assist in one’s suicide than it is for someone who cannot end his or her life without assistance.  

“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 is over-ruling what Parliament so recently voted.

The League urges an immediate appeal of the decision.

The impact of today’s ruling will not be immediate, as Justice Smith has suspended the declaration of invalidity for one year in order to give Parliament time to take steps to draft and consider new legislation. But in the meantime, the judgement says plaintiff Gloria Taylor must have a constitutional exception to seek physician-assisted suicide if she chooses to end her life.

The League made a submission to the inter-party Committee on Compassionate and Palliative Care that was established after the vote on Bill C-384. In it, we recommended a strong commitment to improving palliative and other end-of-life care, pointing out that fear of being a burden to family members and of not having adequate pain relief and other  care are both major reasons why some people believe euthanasia and assisted suicide must be available. The committee’s final report contained many similar recommendations.

–  Assisted suicide ban struck down by BC Supreme Court, CBC News June 15
The wrong decision on assisted suicide, by Will Johnston, National Post, June 18
Bishop urging Ottawa to appeal B.C. court ruling, Vancouver Province, June 18

Bishops express dismay over court decision, BC Catholic, June 19.
Salvation from Medical Suicide, Cardus Daily, June 19