Thaddeus Baklinski

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Supreme Court of Canada accepts Carter appeal, will reconsider ban on assisted suicide

Thaddeus Baklinski

OTTAWA, January 17, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Supreme Court of Canada has decided to revisit its 1993 Rodriguez decision upholding Canada’s law on assisted suicide, to the dismay of the disability community and pro-life activists.

The high court agreed yesterday to allow an appeal of the recent British Columbia Court of Appeal ruling in Carter v. Canada that upheld the nation’s ban on assisted suicide.

The case was launched by the family of Kay Carter, who died by assisted suicide in Switzerland in 2010. The family claims Carter was denied the ‘right’ to die with dignity in Canada and her family was forced to break the law by assisting her travel to Switzerland for suicide. The BC Civil Liberties Association represented them.

"The ongoing efforts to achieve assisted suicide by any means are escalating the level of anxiety experienced by people with disabilities," said Tony Dolan, chairman of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), in a press release

"Imagine the emotional toll it takes on people with disabilities who keep hearing from assisted suicide campaigners that people who experience problems with toileting, feeding and other activities of daily living should have help to die," he said.

Disability rights advocate Amy Hasbrouck of Toujours Vivant - Not Dead Yet Canada said, "People with disabilities, chronic illness and seniors are negatively affected by assisted suicide and euthanasia because it leads to the impression that our lives are lacking in meaning and value as compared to other Canadians."

The BC Court of Appeal ruling, handed down in October, overturned a 2012 BC Supreme Court ruling by Justice Lynn Smith finding the assisted suicide ban unconstitutional. According to Smith, the law discriminated against people with disabilities who are unable to kill themselves by suicide without assistance.

But the BC Court of Appeal found that Smith did not have the right to strike down Canada’s assisted suicide law and that she made several errors and incorrect assumptions in her decision. The court also acknowledged that Parliament had recently defeated a bill (Bill C-384) that would have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada.

The BC Civil Liberties Association then announced that it would appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Dolan said that the CCD and the Canadian Association for Community Living, two of Canada’s largest organizations representing persons with disabilities and their families, had hoped the appeal would be denied. 

In documents filed with the Supreme Court, the disability groups expressed concern about the inadequacy of the evidentiary record, because the BC Supreme Court did not have the benefit of hearing sufficiently from experts who had considered the perils posed to people with disabilities by legalized assisted suicide. 

"Circumstances in Canada have not changed so much in the intervening years since the Rodriguez decision to require this issue to be revisited by the [Supreme Court]," said Dolan. ”If anything, the justification is weaker because of improvements in palliative care.”

"Moreover," Dolan said, "on 21 April 2010, Parliament opposed, by a vote of 228 to 59, a bill to legalize assisted suicide. Our legislators, who are close to grassroots Canadians, got the threat that assisted suicide poses to the elderly and people with disabilities and said no to assisted suicide.  It is our view that the existing Supreme Court precedent Rodriguez and 2010 Parliamentary decision reflect how the law should stand on this issue."

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC), which intervened in the Carter case at the lower court level and at the BC Court of Appeal, announced that it will continue its efforts to protect vulnerable Canadians by seeking intervenor status in Carter case at the Supreme Court of Canada.

"EPC is concerned about the safety, security and equality of people with disabilities and seniors, which is central to the protections set out under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our Criminal Code," said EPC legal counsel Hugh Scher in a statement yesterday.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has investigated and reported on the widespread abuses of euthanasia and assisted suicide in jurisdictions where the practice is allowed.

"A study in Belgium demonstrated that 32% of the people killed under the Belgian euthanasia law were killed without request, a breach of a fundamental condition of that law. Not one of these doctors has been prosecuted,” noted Alex Schadenberg, the EPC’s Executive Director.

To support the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition's effort to intervene in the Carter case please visit their website here.

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