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BC Court of Appeal upholds protections in law from euthanasia and assisted suicide; Supreme Court of Canada is next

by | Oct 14, 2013

By Alex Schadenberg, executive director – Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

bc-court-of-appealLast Thursday in a 2 to 1 decision, the British Columbia (BC) Court of Appeal upheld Canada’s laws prohibiting euthanasia and assisted suicide, in the processing overturning the disturbing 2012 “Carter v. Canada” decision.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC), which intervened in the Carter case, applauded the BC Court of Appeal:

“EPC is pleased that the Court has followed the lead of Canadian Parliament, the Supreme Court of Canada, and of the majority of Parliaments and Supreme Courts around the world in finding that the prohibitions against assisted suicide represent an important protection against abuse of vulnerable people.”

The Carter case was launched by the family of Kay Carter, a woman who died by assisted suicide in 2010 in Switzerland. The Carter family claimed that Kay Carter had been denied the “right” to die with dignity in Canada and her family were forced to break the law by assisting her travel to Switzerland for suicide. The BC Civil Liberties Association represented the Carter family.

On June 15, 2012, Justice Lynn Smith decided that Canada’s assisted suicide law was unconstitutional because the law discriminated against people with disabilities who Smith found that are unable to kill themselves by suicide without assistance.

Justice Smith also decided that “safeguards” can effectively protect vulnerable people. Smith gave parliament one year to pass a law allowing assisted suicide and a limited form of euthanasia in Canada.

Fortunately the federal government appealed the decision of Justice Smith to the BC Court of Appeal.

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.

Writing for the majority, Justices Mary Newbury and Mary Saunders stated that Smith was wrong when she found that the circumstances had sufficiently changed since 1993, giving her the right to strike down the 1993 “Rodriguez “decision.

Thirty years ago the Supreme Court of Canada upheld Canada’s assisted suicide law in the case of Sue Rodriguez. Rodriguez, who was living with ALS, petitioned the courts to grant her the right to die by assisted suicide.

Justices Newbury and Saunders also found that Smith was wrong when she assumed that the Rodriguez decision did not consider certain constitutional analysis. They concluded that only the Supreme Court of Canada has the right to overturn its decisions.

The BC Court of Appeal decision took on Smith’s assertion that Canada’s assisted suicide law discriminates against people with disabilities! The majority stated that:

“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.”

Finally, and importantly, the BC Court of Appeal also acknowledged that parliament had recently considered a bill (Bill C-384) that would have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada. On April 21, 2010, parliament overwhelmingly defeated Bill C-384 by a vote of 228 to 59.

The BC Civil Liberties Association announced that it will appeal the BC Court of Appeal decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

If the Supreme Court of Canada decides to hear the Carter case, The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) will seek to intervene.

Categories: Euthanasia