On Oct. 10, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld Canada’s Criminal Code provisions outlawing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide when it overturned a lower court’s 2012 decision striking down the prohibition.
On June 15, 2012, Justice Lynn Smith said the prohibition on assisted-suicide discriminated against people with disabilities in a case brought forward by Gloria Taylor, a woman diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) in 2009 who sought the “right to die.” Smith gave Parliament one year to amend the Criminal Code and exempted Taylor from criminal prosecution. Taylor died last October, apparently of natural causes.
In a 2-1 decision, the Court of Appeal overruled Smith’s ruling, stating the legal principles and social realities she considered as justification for overturning the Supreme Court’s 1993 Rodriguez decision which upheld the Criminal Code strictures, were not sufficiently altered to require reconsideration of the issue. Writing for the majority, Justice Mary Newbury said only the Supreme Court can overturn Rodriguez, unless Parliament took action to amend the Criminal Code. But she acknowledged that Parliament had overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have legalized euthanasia, by a vote of 228 to 59 in 2010.
Don Hutchinson, vice president and general legal counsel of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, said in a press release, that the B.C. Court of Appeals “found that the decision and the principles set out in Rodriguez in 1993 are still valid.”
Pro-life groups were pleased with the decision. Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, an organization that intervened in the case, said, “we are very happy that the Court of Appeals has recognized that vulnerable Canadians need to be protected by the law,” he said. Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, said the ruling was “great news” even though he predicted the case would be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada: “Today we can celebrate the protection of human life.”
Justice Newbury’s decision made reference to the value of all human life: “Those who have only a limited ability to enjoy life are not less alive and have no less a right to life, than able-bodied and fully competent persons.”
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has announced it will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada with an eye to throwing out the Criminal Code provisions. “We will ask the Supreme Court (to) hear this case and to recognize the right to die with dignity,” said Grace Pastine, litigation director for the BCCLA, in a press release. “We will continue to argue that the government has no place at the bedside of seriously ill Canadians, denying the right to decide to those who have made firm decisions about the amount of suffering they will endure at the end of life.”
Schadenberg said he hopes that the Supreme Court will uphold Canada’s laws as it did in its 1993 Rodriguez decision. Sue Rodriguez suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease and demanded medical assistance to commit suicide. The Supreme Court upheld the restrictions in a 5-4 decision, with Justice John Sopinka saying the state has a “fundamental interest in protecting human life.” Justice Newbury affirmed Sopinka’s 1993 words, “human life must be respected and we must be careful not to undermine the institutions that protect it.”
Hutchinson said the Court of Appeals “ruled that concerns over the societal impact of decriminalizing assisted suicide cannot be simply dismissed.”
Natalie Hudson Sonnen, executive director of LifeCanada, said the Canadian Supreme Court must uphold the B.C. Appeal’s Court decision and respect its precedent from 1993. “The equality rights and life of the elderly and disabled must be protected in law,” Hudson Sonnen said.
Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay said through his press secretary that the decision “reinforces our government’s view that the Criminal Code provisions that prohibit medical professionals, or anyone else, from counselling or providing assistance in a suicide, are constitutionally valid.” His press secretary Paloma Aguilar said, “the laws surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide exist to protect all Canadians, including those who are most vulnerable.”
EPC legal counsel Hugh Scher said in a press release: “The 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.” Disability rights advocate Amy Hasbrouck of Toujours Vivant – Not Dead Yet 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 EPC vowed to seek intervenor status if the Supreme Court accepts the BCCLA’s appeal.