Justice Minister Announces Appeal of Court Decision on Assisted Suicide

CCD applauds the Government of Canada’s announcement that it is seeking to appeal the decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court in Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson et al. v. Attorney General of Canada.  On 13 July 2012, the Hon. Robert Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, announced that, 

The Government is of the view that the Criminal Code provisions that prohibit medical professionals, or anyone else, from counselling or providing assistance in a suicide, are constitutionally valid.

The Government also objects to the lower court's decision to grant a "constitutional exemption" resembling a regulatory framework for assisted suicide.

The laws surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide exist to protect all Canadians, including those who are most vulnerable, such as people who are sick or elderly or people with disabilities. The Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged the state interest in protecting human life and upheld the constitutionality of the existing legislation in Rodriguez (1993).

In April 2010, a large majority of Parliamentarians voted not to change these laws, which is an expression of democratic will on this topic. It is an emotional and divisive issue for many Canadians.

The Government of Canada will provide its full position before the British Columbia Court of Appeal when the matter is heard. As the matter continues to be before the court, the Government will not comment further."

On 27 June 2012, CCD Chairperson Tony Dolan wrote to the Hon. Robert Nicholson calling for the Government of Canada to appeal the decision in the Carter case.  In that letter, Tony Dolan stated,

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), which works for access and inclusion, urges Canada to appeal Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2012 BCSC 886, which legalizes assisted suicide in Canada and will make doctors complicit in death-making.  Legislators have the responsibility to establish reasonable limits and the Criminal Code’s prohibitions against assisted suicide are reasonable as they protect vulnerable people, the Canadian medical system, and Canadian society from irreparable harm.

Legalized physician-assisted suicide violates the Canadian value that shuns killing, except in self-defence.  The BC decision creates a new category of Canadians: people deserving to be killed; people with disabilities will be the ones perceived as populating this category.  Sue Rodriguez and Gloria Taylor, two women with disabilities, have been the rallying figures in Canada’s court cases to legalize assisted suicide.  We with disabilities will be the ones to bear the lethal brunt of the stigmatization that will come with legalized assisted suicide.

We with disabilities hear from Canadians who tell us they would never want to live as we do, preferring death to life with a disability.  They wrongly assume life with a disability is synonymous with suffering and pain.  Legalized assisted suicide will confirm this notion for many.  We fear legalized assisted suicide functioning in tandem with stereotypical misconceptions about the poor quality of life with a disability will result in people with disabilities being subtly coerced to accept undesired assisted suicides.  Our concern is grounded in the experiences of our hospitalized friends who have been pressured to accept Do Not Resuscitate Orders and palliation rather than aggressive treatment.  Even one unwanted assisted suicide is too many; thus we urge the immediate appeal of the BC Supreme Court decision.

Prohibition, not safeguards, is the correct answer to the assisted suicide question. 

In the coming weeks, CCD will monitor future developments in this case.