OTTAWA, ON October 15, 2014 – The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) will present arguments today at the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) in Lee Carter et al. v. Attorney General of Canada and Attorney General of British Columbia. At issue in this appeal is about whether seriously ill or disabled Canadians have a constitutional right to physician-assisted death. This appeal is also about whether healthcare providers should be obligated to participate in or support in such acts.
Even though the focus of section 241 of the Criminal Code is on the person who assists in a suicide, the jeopardy faced by healthcare providers who object to killing patients or assisting patients kill themselves is absent from this appeal. While the League supports the government’s opposition to decriminalization, the CCRL’s intervention emphasises that an indeterminate number of Canadian healthcare providers consider physician-assisted death immoral or unethical for reasons of conscience or religion. Their views are consistent with the current Canadian legal framework, which would be fundamentally changed if physician-assisted death were decriminalized. If this change were implemented, these healthcare providers would be confronted by demands that they directly or indirectly participate in what they consider to be immoral activities.
One of the objectives of the impugned legislation is to prevent vulnerable people from succumbing to pressure to commit suicide. Accordingly, the law provides an additional safeguard by ensuring that those who object to physician-assisted death for reasons of conscience or religion cannot be compelled to participate in or support the procedures, or be discriminated against for refusing to do so.
To the extent that the Court might overturn its previous ruling in Rodrigues (1993) and find the impugned legislation to be of no force and effect, it will force legislatures to address the legislation, whether by possible invocation of the notwithstanding clause, or by incorporating robust protection for the freedoms of everyone who declines or opposes physician-assisted death for reasons of conscience or religion.
Presenting on behalf of the CCRL is Robert Staley, with the participation of Ranjan Agarwal, Jack Maslen, and Sheridan Scott, all of Bennett Jones LLP, together with CCRL President, Philip Horgan. The CCRL is intervening jointly with the Faith and Freedom Alliance and the Protection of Conscience Project. A total of 27 interventions were approved by the Supreme Court.
A decision in the appeal is expected by the spring of 2015. For further information on this case, please refer to the case factum.
About the CCRL
The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. The CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization with a large nationwide membership base. The CCRL is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.
Christian Domenic Elia, PhD