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
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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.
Tags: Canada, canada charter, canada government, canada housing, canada public housing, homeless, homelessness, housing, human rights, kirk makin, ontario government, public housing, roger hollander
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Jennifer Tanudjaua with her childen in their home in Toronto’s Jane-Finch area.
Kirk Makin Justice Reporter
From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, May. 26, 2010 12:12AM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, May. 26, 2010 7:04AM EDT
One major obstacle stands between Jennifer Tanudjaja and her goal of becoming a successful career woman rather than a burden on the social welfare system – paying the rent.
Struggling to stay in school, the 19-year-old mother of two children plows most of her child welfare benefits and student assistance loan into a $998 per month tenement apartment in Toronto’s Jane-Finch neighbourhood. Meanwhile, she is mired at the bottom of a 10-year wait list for public housing.
Ms. Tanudjaja’s plight lies at the heart of a Charter of Rights challenge being filed on Wednesday in an attempt to persuade the judiciary to force governments to create low-cost public housing.
A coalition of social welfare groups that is launching the challenge seeks to compel the federal and Ontario governments to provide affordable housing for those who are homeless or impoverished by the cost of putting a roof over their heads.
One of the case histories the coalition is furnishing is that of Ms. Tanudjaja, a social work student who aims to be a probation officer. Just 13 years old when her mother handed her over to child welfare authorities, Ms. Tanudjaja ran away from a group home at 15 and then spent more than a year “couch-surfing” from one friend’s home to another.
Now, she can barely eke out her rent cheque after paying for food and public transit to college. “It is honestly not worth what I’m paying at all,” Ms. Tanjudjaja said. “There are bedbugs and tiles popping out of my walls, and my pipes leak really bad.”
The legal challenge harks back to the early, heady days when activists saw the Charter as a sweeping document that could induce reluctant governments to spend money on social programs.
Tracy Heffernan, a lawyer for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, conceded that judges have become wary of poking their noses into expenditures of public money.
“But 25 years after we got the Charter, it is time to bring it back to the people,” she said. “To allow this crisis of homelessness and inadequate housing to expand and grow and further deepen that crisis is not a good thing for the country.”
The challenge is rooted in the Charter right to equality and to life, liberty and security. A legal brief prepared by Ms. Heffernan and lawyers Peter Rosenthal and Fay Faraday notes that the federal government once played a dominant role in providing public housing. They said that it later pushed public housing onto the provinces, which off-loaded it to municipalities, which lack the tax base to shoulder it.
The brief alleges that homelessness reduces life expectancy, causes single mothers to lose custody of their children and forces victims of domestic violence to return to abusive spouses. Cuts to social assistance have steadily added to the ranks of homeless people, it added.
“The result is that those in receipt of social assistance are often unable to obtain adequate housing, many become homeless, and many more are inadequately housed,” it said. “People who are homeless are perhaps the most marginalized, disempowered, precariously situated and vulnerable group in Canadian society.”
Ms. Heffernan said that a recent study conducted for the Senate found that, over a 10-year period, the homeless could be housed for half of what it will cost to treat the medical and social problems caused by homelessness.
The documents supporting the challenge also include an affidavit from Miloon Kothari, an Indian housing expert who served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing from 2000-2008.
“The most striking feature of my mission to Canada was the contrast between the abundance of resources available and the dire living conditions facing the most vulnerable in society,” Mr. Kothari said.
In another affidavit, Linda Chamberlain, a Toronto woman who is mentally ill, describes 30 years living in hostels or on the streets.
“Sometimes police would pick me up and take me to a shelter,” Ms. Chamberlain said in an interview. “You can’t imagine living in places infested with bed bugs and cockroaches or in a plastic bag, scared to death of being violated. I didn’t want to wake up because I was in such pain.
“You walk around like a zombie,” she said. “There is no hope there. You lose everything. If no one helps people get into a safe place to live, how can they turn their lives around?”