B.C. Supreme Court strikes down ban on doctor-assisted suicide June 16, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Civil Liberties, Human Rights.
Tags: als, assisted suicide, Canada, canada charter, canada court, canada law, civil liberties, doctor-assisted, euthanasia, gloria taylor, human rights, roger hollander, sue rogriguez, supreme court
Justice Lynn Smith granted Gloria Taylor, who has late-stage ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a constitutional exemption to proceed with physician-assisted suicide.
The ruling does not immediately open the door for assisted suicide for anyone who wants one. Smith placed a 12-month suspension on her ruling to give Parliament time to write new legislation, or for the anticipated appeals that will be brought forward by the provincial and federal governments that argued against changing the current laws.
For now, Taylor remains the only Canadian with a legal exemption to have the option of a doctor-assisted suicide, a decision that her lawyer said the woman has not yet made.
“It’s obviously a very profound decision she has to make and whether she makes it or when she makes it is entirely her decision,” said Joe Arvay. “This has been a very difficult time for her.”
Arvay said he knew as soon as he read the first paragraph of Smith’s ruling that Taylor would get the right to have a doctor-assisted suicide.
“I describe the evidence and the legal arguments that have led me to conclude that the plaintiffs succeed in their challenge,” Smith wrote at the beginning of her 395-page ruling. “They succeed because the provisions unjustifiably infringe on the equality rights of Gloria Taylor and the rights of life, liberty and security of the person.”
The ruling Friday, following a hearing that began last November in B.C. Supreme Court, has long been sought by right-to-die organizations in Canada and long fought against by anti-euthanasia groups.
Dr. Will Johnston, a family doctor in Vancouver with the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said an appeal will most certainly be launched.
“The breadth of this case means anyone with an identifiable illness could have the means of suicide provided or be directly killed by anyone acting under the general supervision of a doctor,” said Johnston. “There is no requirement specified for a doctor to be present at the time of death.”
Johnston said there is no law that can be crafted that addresses the problems that have been raised by the B.C. Supreme Court judgment such as the potential for elder abuse.
The Friday ruling found that the Supreme Court of Canada decision in 1993 that absolutely prohibits doctor-assisted suicide in order to prevent vulnerable people from being induced to commit suicide at times of weakness, is not demonstrably justified under the Charter of Rights.
In Taylor’s case, the judge found that not allowing her to have a doctor-assisted suicide violates her Charter rights in Section 7, which gives her the right to life, liberty and security and in Section 15, which guarantees her equality.
While it is not illegal to commit suicide, the ruling concluded that the assisted-suicide law discriminates against people with disabilities because they need assistance.
Taylor, a divorced mother of two grown sons and a grandmother to an 11-year-old girl, was one of five plaintiffs in the suit seeking to overturn the current legislation.
Of the plaintiffs, Taylor became the lead because her condition is the most dire. Her lawyers, from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, specifically sought for an exemption from the courts that would allow Taylor to proceed with an assisted suicide.
She will be allowed to have a doctor-assisted suicide if she meets a number of conditions set out by the judge, which include an assessment from a psychiatrist and confirmation from her physician that the woman has been fully informed about her prognosis and the ability of drugs and palliative care to alleviate her suffering.
Taylor, of Westbank, B.C., was diagnosed with ALS, a motor neurologically degenerative disease in 2009. In January 2010, she was told by her doctors she would likely be paralyzed in six months and die within the year. She has fared better than predicted and her condition plateaued over the last year. But over the last few weeks, her condition has again deteriorated; she must often use a wheelchair and requires a feeding tube.
Taylor’s case is similar to the landmark case brought to the courts by Sue Rodriguez, a Victoria woman who also had ALS and wanted to get a doctor-assisted suicide. Rodriguez’ case, which went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada led to the 1993 narrow 5-4 decision which ruled assisted suicide was a criminal offence.