Mr. Justice Allen Melvin of the B.C. Supreme Court has ruled that the law forbidding assisted suicide is constitutional and does not infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The judgment, released on December 29th, 1992, dismissed arguments made by lawyers on behalf of Sue Rodrigez. They asked the Court to strike down Section 241 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits aiding or abetting in a suicide. Sue Rodriguez’s whose court case is heavily backed by the Right to Die Association, has ALS or Lou Gerhrig’s disease, a degenerative disease of the nervous system. She argues that she has the right to decide the time and manner of her death but due to the nature of her disease, she may be physically incapable of committing suicide when she judges she no longer wishes to live.

In his 22-page judgment, Mr. Justice Melvin summarized the legal argument as “based on her right to enjoy her remaining life with the inherent dignity of a human person, the right to control what happens to her body while she is living and the right to have the liberty to control her body, including the choice of timing, method and circumstances of her death…in short, fundamental choices about her life as hers to be made by her without interference by the state, particularly as attempting to commit suicide or committing suicide are not unlawful acts.”

In presenting his case, Rodriguez’s lawyer, Chris Considine relied heavily on the Supreme Court of Canada judgment in the Morgentaler case [1998] which struck down the Canadian abortion law. Arguments made then by Morgentaler’s lawyers were also based on Section 7 of the Charter with regard to life, liberty and security of the person.

“Her fundamental decisions concerning her life.” Mr. Justice Melvin ruled “are not restricted by the state. Her illness may restrict her ability to implement her decisions but in my opinion that does not amount to an infringement of a right to life, liberty or security of the person by the state.”

Section 241 does not interfere primarily with Mrs. Rodriguez’s rights in the judge’s view, “it only does so on the basis that it interferes with the rights of others who may wish to assist the petitioner in achieving her goal” Judge Melvin rejected the contention that since suicide is not illegal, it is a right protected under the Charter.

“Such a conclusion or interpretation is, in my opinion, diametrically opposed to the underlying hypothesis upon which a Charter of Rights and Freedoms is based: namely, the sanctity of human life. To interpret .7 so as to include a constitutionally guaranteed not to take one’s own life as an exercise in freedom of choice is inconsistent, in my opinion, with life, liberty, and the security of the person.”

The judge also dismissed Considine’s arguments that Section 241 of the Criminal Code infringes on Section 15 of the Charter, which forbids discrimination based on physical disability. He pointed out that Sue Rodriguez is not herself at risk of being charged with aiding or abetting a suicide, therefore the argument is valid.

Finally, the judge addressed Section 1 of the Charter of Rights, which guarantee rights and freedoms subject only to such reasonable limits as prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

“When one considers the nature of s. 241 and its purpose,” he wrote, “in my view, it is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society as it is designed to protect those who may at a moment of weakness, or when they are unable to respond or unable to make competent value judgments, may find themselves at risk at the hand of others who may, with the best or with the worst of motives, aid and abet in the termination of life.”

Section 241 protects the young, the innocent, the mentally incompetent, the depressed, and all those other individuals in our society who at a particular moment in time decide that termination of their life is a course that they should follow for whatever reason. Section 241 precludes anyone aiding and abetting in that conduct and in my opinion, as such, is a reasonable limit demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Lawyer Chris Considine has appealed the judgment and the B.C. Court of Appeal will hear further arguments on February 15.

The Pro-Life Society of B.C. and the Pacific Physicians for Life who intervened in the case are seeking similar status at the Court of Appeal.