Quebec, September 1, 2011 (  – A prominent Quebec attorney has vowed to challenge Canadian law so that a sick woman he is representing can legally end her life.

Ginette Leblanc, a 47-year-old Quebec woman, suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She says she wants to legally end her life before her disease becomes intolerable and that her dire prognosis gives her that legal right.

Rene Duval, a 64-year-old retired lawyer who still practices full time, has agreed to take her case pro bono.

Under current Criminal Code of Canadian, anyone who aids or abets a person to commit suicide is guilty of an indictable offence and if convicted could be imprisoned for up to 14 years.

This law has been unchallenged for 19 years, since Sue Rodriguez, who also suffered from ALS, forced the assisted suicide debate into the Supreme Court with her demand to commit suicide with medical assistance. At this time, the Supreme Court ruled against Rodriguez, citing that the state has a “fundamental interest in protecting human life.” The Court argued that the state has an obligation to “protect the vulnerable” and that this obligation outweighs the rights of the individual to self-determination.

Leblanc’s lawyer says he believes, however, that much has changed since the Supreme Court ruled against Rodriguez in the 1993 split decision of five to four.

“It seems to me now, that the winning conditions are here,” Duval said.

The lawyer told The Gazette that of the nine judges on the Rodriguez case, only Justice Beverley McLachlin is still on the bench. McLachlin, who was a dissenting vote in the Rodriguez’s ruling, argued for the absolute right of the individual to “make decisions about his or her body.”

By mid-October, Duval plans to file an application on behalf of Leblanc to the Quebec Superior Court asking it to invalidate section 241(b) of the criminal code that prohibits assisted suicide. Knowing that his case will be dismissed, he expects to be before the Quebec Court of Appeal and finally before the Supreme Court of Canada by the fall of 2012.

“I don’t expect any court to issue a decision that would contradict Rodriguez. Only the Supreme Court of Canada can re-examine this issue,” he said.

Alex Schadenberg, director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said he will oppose Duval and Leblanc’s efforts.

Schadenberg says that opening the door to voluntary euthanasia is just the beginning of a dangerous slippery slope, and that better end-of-life care is the real solution. “Where euthanasia is legal, such as the Netherlands and Belgium, there are euthanasia deaths that occur without request or consent,” he said, pointing out that recent studies out of Belgium show that 32% of deaths by euthanasia were done without request or consent and that 47% of deaths by euthanasia were not reported.

“The most recent Dutch government study found that there were 550 deaths without request or consent and 20% of the time, the doctors that caused the death of their patients, were not reported.”

Schadenberg says he believes that the argument Duval will make will be similar to one that is being made by the BC Civil Liberties Association in another case – the Carter/Taylor case.

“They argued that things have changed since 1993 and other jurisdictions allow euthanasia and assisted suicide, therefore we should also allow doctors to cause the death of their patients.”

The way forward, says Schadenberg, is not for Canada to legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide, but to continue to improve end-of-life and chronic care.

“Let’s not make the same mistake that Belgium and the Netherlands have made.”


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