B.C. Court of Appeal upholds ban on assisted suicide
Published Thursday, October 10, 2013 1:03PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, October 10, 2013 9:37PM EDT
The British Columbia Court of Appeal has upheld Canada’s ban on physician-assisted suicide in a split 2-1 decision.
The federal government had appealed the landmark ruling of Carter v. Canada, which stated that voluntary euthanasia should be allowed under strict conditions. The B.C. Supreme Court ruled last year that prohibiting assisted suicide violated the Charter rights of gravely ill Canadians.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which backed the plaintiffs in the original case, said it will now take its fight to the Supreme Court of Canada.
B. C. residents Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson launched the court challenge after Lee's 89-year-old mother, Kay, sought assisted suicide in Switzerland.
Another plaintiff, Gloria Taylor, had won a personal exemption from the assisted suicide ban, but died several months after the court ruling. The 64-year-old suffered from Lou Gherig’s disease and died from an infection related to a perforated colon.
In its June 2012 ruling, the B.C. Supreme Court said voluntary euthanasia should be permitted when strict criteria are met, including “intolerable” suffering by a patient who has no chance of improvement and who has personally requested physician-assisted suicide.
But the federal government appealed that ruling, saying assisted suicide would put vulnerable people at risk and minimize the value of life.
The Supreme Court of Canada last considered assisted suicide in 1993, when it looked at the case of Sue Rodriguez, who also had Lou Gherig’s disease. It ruled that no one could legally assist in another person’s death, regardless of the circumstances.
In the appeal court decision released Thursday, justices Mary Newbury and Mary Saunders said that while the law banning assisted suicide has evolved in the last two decades, it hasn't changed enough to undermine the 1993 decision.
"As the law now stands, there does not appear to be an avenue for relief from a generally sound law that has an extraordinary, even cruel, effect on a small number of individuals," the judges wrote in a joint ruling.
Hugh Scher, the legal counsel for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said the decision recognizes the need to protect vulnerable people who are at risk of serious abuse.
“These are complex issues that involve real people and real emotional situations,” he told CTV News Channel Thursday.
“I think what’s important is that the court recognizes, and I think we all must recognize, when we’re dealing with a matter of such complex social and public policy, we must allow reason and rationale to have their day.”
Scher noted that Parliament has debated the issue a number of times. MPs voted down an assisted suicide bill in 2010.
Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose reiterated Ottawa’s stance on euthanasia last week, saying: "We do not support assisted suicide -- that is our government's clear position.”
But the provincial government in Quebec is considering a bill that would allow physician-assisted suicide.
Assisted suicide is legal in some countries, including Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium. In the U.S., it’s legal in the states of Oregon and Washington.
With files from The Canadian Press