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Woman with non-terminal illness can be euthanized under Ontario law: judge

Lianne Laurence Lianne Laurence Follow Lianne

TORONTO, June 26, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — An Ontario judge has ruled a woman with a non-terminal illness meets the legal criteria for death by lethal injection after a doctor backed out of killing her because he feared being charged with murder.

The question put to Superior Court Justice Paul Perell was whether a 77-year-old woman suffering from severe inflammatory osteoarthritis met the test that natural death is “reasonably foreseeable,” reported the Toronto Star.

Perell ruled June 19 that the woman, identified as AB because of a publication ban, did meet the test because the medical evidence showed “she doesn’t have long to live, given her age and health,” the Toronto Globe & Mail reported.

But Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition responded to the ruling by blasting the Liberals for the vague wording of Bill C-14, the June 2016 legislation setting out the parameters in which euthanasia and assisted suicide is permitted in Canada.

Schadenberg blogged June 22 that he was “convinced” when he read Bill C-14 that the Liberals “intentionally used imprecise language to enable the expansion of euthanasia without facing political pressure from passing a wide-open euthanasia law.”

And that is particularly the case with the “reasonably foreseeable” death criterion, even though the Liberals “claimed to be restricting euthanasia to terminally ill people,” wrote Schadenberg.

Bill C-14 allows voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide for competent persons 18 years and over who are deemed to be suffering from a “grievous and irremediable” medical condition.

The bill stipulates that to be “grievous and irremediable,” a condition must meet four criteria:

1) it must be a “serious and incurable illness, disease or disability”  

2) the person as a result is in an “advanced state of irreversible decline in capability”

3) they are in “physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable”

4) their natural death is “reasonably foreseeable."

AB applied to the court for a declaration after the doctor who initially agreed to kill her changed his mind because “at least one other doctor” disputed that she met the reasonably foreseeable death test, reported the Star.

But Perell faulted the doctor for an “abundance of caution and apprehensive misunderstanding” of Bill C-14.

He said for death to be “reasonably foreseeable” it does not need to be imminent nor expected within a certain time or because of a terminal illness, the Star reported.

Perell ruled the law is meant to apply to an individual “on a trajectory toward death” because of the other three criteria defining “grievous and irremediable:” serious and incurable illness, advanced state of irreversible decline, and “intolerable physical or psychological suffering that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable.”

One doctor’s affidavit noted that while AB’s “condition is not terminal and she could die from any number of causes, she does not have long to live given her age, her incurable, debilitating illness and declining health,” reported the Star.

Such is the case of AB, an “almost 80-year-old woman in an advanced state of incurable, irreversible, worsening illness with excruciating pain and no quality of life,” Perell said.

“In other words, people who are not terminally ill are terminally ill,” pointed out Schadenberg.

Although AB sought an explicit declaration she can be euthanized, Perell did not grant that, ruling rather that her situation fits the criteria.

“All the court can do in the circumstances of the immediate case is to clarify what Parliament meant in (the legislation) so the Physician-1 and other physicians have no misunderstanding about how to comply with the legislation,” Perell said.

But Schadenberg emphasized Perell was clear his ruling would apply to all cases, although legal experts say it has authority only in Ontario.

“There is no floodgates concern because the court need do this only once for whatever benefit it may provide to AB and others,” Perell said.

Meanwhile, two people in British Columbia and two in Quebec are challenging the “reasonably foreseeable death” criteria of Bill C-14, Schadenberg noted.

Bill C-14 was also criticized from the outset, including by Liberal MPs and senators, for being too restrictive.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the time the bill was a “first step.”

He pointed out the Liberals were working against a Supreme Court-imposed deadline. The court struck down the law prohibiting euthanasia as unconstitutional in February 2015 but gave Parliament time to draft legislation to regulate the euthanasia regime.

“This is the first step, it’s a big one,” Trudeau said then. “Some people thought it should be bigger, I respect that.”

Indeed, the Liberal-dominated justice committee amended Bill C-14 to add that within six months of its passing, the ministers of justice and health must “initiate one or more independent reviews” to study whether euthanasia should be extended to children, for mental illness alone, and whether people suffering from a debilitating illness such as dementia can issue advance directives to be killed a future date.

In December 2016, the Liberals asked the Council of Canadian Academics to set up expert panel to  review these three issues.

In May, the Council announced the 43-member panel that will investigate and release three separate reports on euthanasia for mature minors, for mental illness alone, and advance directives, to be released by late 2018. Bill C-14 legislates the reports be tabled in the House of Commons and the Senate.

The members of the CCA euthanasia panel can be found here.

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