OTTAWA, November 5, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Canada’s bishops have unanimously asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to invoke the notwithstanding clause and thus put a five-year moratorium on the Supreme Court’s February 2015 decision legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
The bishops’ call echoes that of the pro-life movement, especially two of the leading organizations on the issue, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and Campaign Life Coalition. The day the Supreme Court issued the ruling, LifeSiteNews launched a petition calling on the government to invoke the notwithstanding clause, and it has since drawn over 22,000 signatures.
In a November 4 letter of congratulations to Trudeau, Hamilton’s Bishop Doug Crosbie, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote that Canada’s legislators “need more time” than the court-imposed one year deadline to “look closely at the Court’s decision and the grave social risk of embarking on policies of assisted suicide and euthanasia.”
He described the Court’s ruling as “divisive,” noting that “polls indicate almost two-thirds of Canadian physicians would refuse to assist in such suicides.”
Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, says that he applauds the bishops’ initiative, and noted that CLC is also asking that the government invoke the notwithstanding clause.
The court’s decision was an “outrageous” instance of judicial activism and a “slap in the face to the democratic process,” he told LifeSiteNews, pointing out that Canada’s elected MPs “overwhelmingly rejected the notion of the killing of the terminally ill” by a vote of 228 to 59 in 2010.
Five years later, the top court’s nine justices unanimously struck down legislation prohibiting assisted suicide, claiming it violated the Charter’s Section 7 guarantees of life and security of person. The ruling takes effect February 2016.
“At the time of the Charter of Rights and Freedom debate, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, said the ‘notwithstanding clause’ was there to be used in cases such as this,” Hughes commented.
That clause allows a law to remain on the books “notwithstanding” its being judged in breach of the Charter.
“We’re hoping and praying that Justin Trudeau will examine the records of his father, and see that this is a perfectly legitimate way to proceed in this case,” said Hughes.
Alex Schadenberg, president of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, says his group spearheaded a postcard campaign asking the government to invoke the notwithstanding clause.
“We agree that this is the right way to go,” he told LifeSiteNews. “Really, what it’s saying is that we oppose the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.”
Schadenberg said that he and EPC lawyer Hugh Scher met Tuesday with the three-member federal panel consulting Canadians on possible legislative responses to the court’s ruling.
Appointed in July 2015 by the outgoing Conservatives, the panel was in Toronto this week hearing from interveners in the original case, Carter v. Canada. It’s expected to release its findings in the late fall.
In their 75-minute presentation, the EPC delegates explained to the panel “why in other jurisdictions these laws are being abused,” Schadenberg said.
“The problem with these laws in other jurisdictions are yes, they’re allowing doctors to kill people,” and that “oversight is self-controlled oversight, which, of course is useless.”
Typically, “the same doctor who approves the death, who does the death is also the one who reports the death,” he said. “And then they call that oversight.”
Schadenberg said the panel “asked a lot of questions” and was “truly interested in trying to uncover the facts” and “clearly open to discussion.”
However, with the Liberals now in power, “we have no idea” what will come of the panel’s work.
According to Schadenberg, the Court reasoned the law against assisted suicide was unconstitutional because it forced people who wanted to commit suicide, which is legal, to commit it earlier, before they needed assistance, and “therefore it infringed on the right to life.”
He also explained the distinction between euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide. “The difference is not about consent,” but “about who does the act” that kills the individual asking to be killed.
“It’s euthanasia when someone does it to you; it’s assisted suicide when someone helps you do it to yourself,” he said, such as a doctor giving someone a lethal dose of pills to take in the latter case.
Schadenberg said the court’s ruling says if someone is unable to commit suicide, “it must be done to them,” which opens the door to euthanasia. Moreover, the ruling doesn’t specify that doctors would be the ones to kill someone at that person’s request, although “that’s sort of implied.”
And the Supreme Court ruling’s criteria for determining who would be eligible for euthanasia or doctor-assisted suicide is extremely broad.
It includes “any competent adult person who “clearly consents to the termination of life and “has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”