Assisted suicide ban ruled unconstitutional by B.C. Supreme Court

♥♪Megan♫♥ - posted on 06/15/2012 ( 7 moms have responded )




I don't know about any of the other BC moms, but I was pretty interested in this topic.

A B.C. Supreme Court decision Friday to strike down Canada's physician-assisted suicide law sets the stage for a national debate not seen since abortion was legalized in 1988. Justice Lynn Smith declared the law unconstitutional but gave Parliament a year to draft new legislation to conform with her ruling, The Canadian Press reported.

Smith's 395-page ruling, which will almost certainly be appealed, includes an exemption for Gloria Taylor, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (called ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease) and joined the group led by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to challenge the law. The judge said the 64-year-old West Kelowna resident may choose to end her life while she is still physically able to do so, before MPs revise the Criminal Code.

Taylor's lawyer, Joseph Arvay, told the Globe and Mail his client, who uses a wheelchair and feeding tube, cried with relief on hearing the decision. He said he did not know what her plans were.

Civil Liberties litigation director Grace Pastine said Taylor was "deeply grateful."

"This is a blessing for me and other seriously and incurably ill individuals," Pastine quoted her as saying. "This decision allows me to approach my death in the same way I've tried to live my life: with dignity, independence and grace."

Smith said the legislation that prevents physician-assisted suicide falls "outside the bounds of constitutionality," the Globe reported.

"A less drastic means of achieving the legislative purpose would be to keep an almost-absolute prohibition in place with a stringently limited, carefully monitored system of exceptions allowing persons in Ms. Taylor's situation — grievously and irremediably ill adult persons who are competent, fully-informed, non-ambivalent and free from coercion or duress — to access physician-assisted death," she said.

Suicide itself is not illegal, Smith pointed out. Therefore the law against assisted suicide contravenes Section 15 of the Charter, which guarantees equality, because it denies physically disabled people the rights available to able-bodied people, who can take their own lives, CBC News reported.

Smith also concluded the law deprives people like Taylor and those who try to help them of the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Section 7 of the Charter. The existing law could force people to take their lives sooner than they want, while they are still physically able to do it, CBC News said.

This addresses concerns by people like Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson, who went to Switzerland to help a loved one obtain assisted suicide there but who are theoretically at risk of criminal charges in Canada, the Globe reported.

Smith said that although palliative care is improving, even the best end-of-life care can't "alleviate all suffering, except possibly through sedation to the point of persistent unconsciousness."

[Related: Speakers debate assisted suicide ]

Opponents of assisted suicide were disappointed. Dr. Margaret Cottle, a palliative-care physician, told CKNW News the ruling is dangerous.

"If, somehow ... the law allows other people to be involved in taking our lives, all of us are at risk," she said. "It's a very bad day."

The judge acknowledged the Canadian Medical Association and Canadians in general — based on polls — do not support physician-assisted suicide. But she said carefully-designed and well-monitored safeguards should lessen concerns that patients might not be able to make informed decisions or feel pressured to end their lives, CKNW News reported.

Will Johnston of the B.C. Euthanasia Prevention Coalition called the ruling a "radical decision."

"We think that this judgment decided to minimize and disregard a lot of the evidence of harm in other jurisdictions where assisted suicide and euthanasia has been practised, and we are extremely concerned about the situation of elder abuse which is a major issue in Canada," Johnston said, according to CBC News.

If, as many expect, the federal government appeals Smith's ruling, it puts the law on course for another look by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The high court upheld the ban on assisted suicide in 1993 in a 5-4 decision in the case of 43-year-old B.C. resident Sue Rodriguez, who like Taylor was dying of ALS. An unidentified doctor still helped her take her life a year later.

The issue did not go away and resulted in the latest challenge.

Arvay argued before Smith that there's evidence those who want assisted suicide are, like Rodriguez, already getting illegal help. He likened it to back-alley abortions in the years leading up to the change in that law, The Canadian Press reported.

But federal lawyer Donnaree Nygard told the court that while such stories are heart-wrenching, the potential harm of allowing assisted suicide was irreversible, putting the elderly, disabled and depressed at risk of premature death.

Personally I'm ok with assisted suicide. I've worked enough hospice cases to know that end of life with a painful chronic illness is not how I want to go. Although I do believe you should wait until it's too painful. But the choice should ultimately be up to the patient. So what do the rest of you believe?


Lady Heather - posted on 06/15/2012




I give this a big ol' WOOT. I hope it doesn't get overturned. People deserve dignity and I think it's pretty sick that there are people out there who are totally healthy and have never had to suffer from something as horrid as ALS dictating to the sick how they should feel and how they should react and how they should be okay with palliative care. Fuck that. I know I have no clue how it feels to be in that situation so I sure as shit am not going to sit here and tell people to put up with their suffering.


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Firebird - posted on 06/17/2012




Do not resuscitate, I believe, is also a form of assisted suicide, though technically it's more like 'Just don't save my life... I'm done". I also agree with Krista that there should be precautions so that no one is forced/tricked into it against their will.

♥♪Megan♫♥ - posted on 06/16/2012




From what I understand they have a law like this in Oregon and I haven't heard any issues with it. I'll do some research though when I get back home. I'm at my MIL's right now and her laptop has an evil.

I do agree that as long as a person is able minded they should be allowed to chose. When I worked in elder care some people had DNR (do not resesutate (can't spell that) ) so that no one would try to save them if they started to have complications. In some ways that's the same thing (to me) as assisted suicide. Except that the patient has more of a choice.

[deleted account]

i support physician assisted suicide. i think that if a person is able minded and they are in lots of pain and suffering alot they should be able to make that decision. there should be lots of safeguards in place to make sure that the ;law isn't abused, but i would n't want to have to live my life as a vegetable or in chronic, extreme pain so why should others be forced to.

Krista - posted on 06/16/2012




I think that as long as there are plenty of safeguards in place to ensure that nobody is being coerced or tricked into agreeing with this, then I'm happy with it. I've had relatives die from ALS, and I would not wish that upon my worst enemy.

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