Update on Assisted Suicide

On June 15, 2012, the Supreme Court of British Columbia handed down its decision in the Carter case, opening the door for assisted suicide in Canada.  Justice Lynn Smith found that the “provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada prohibiting physician–assisted dying, unjustifiably infringe the equality rights of Gloria Taylor, and the rights to life, liberty and security of the person of Lee Carter, Gloria Taylor and Hollis Johnson.”  Gloria Taylor, a BC woman with ALS, was seeking the right for a physician assisted suicide at a time of her choosing when she felt it was necessary.  The court ruled that physician-assisted suicide is constitutional under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Government of Canada was given one year to change the law legalizing physician-assisted suicide under the Criminal Code of Canada.  In the meantime, Gloria Taylor was granted an exemption which gave her the right to seek a physician-assisted death under certain conditions.  In early October, Gloria Taylor died from an infection and did not act on the exemption granted to her.


Through the BC Court, the Government of Canada has launched an appeal to Judge Smith’s ruling.  Following the Government of Canada’s decision to appeal the case, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, the Hon. Jason Kenney, PC, MP, wrote to the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) and stated, “Today, our government announced that we will appeal the decision of the BC Supreme Court that struck down the law banning euthanasia, paving the way for the legal killing of the elderly and infirm. My position on euthanasia has always been clear. I believe that the inviolable dignity of human life requires that we do everything possible to help those at the end of life to die with dignity, but that killing a person is never dignified.”


The appeal will be heard in 2013, and CCD and the Canadian Association for Community Living are seeking to be co-intervenors and David Baker of bakerlaw will be legal counsel.  Rhonda Wiebe and Dean Richert, who co-chair CCD’s Ending of Life Ethics Committee, are taking a lead role in directing CCD’s work on this case.


It is probable that this case could go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.  If the provisions against assisted suicide contained in the Criminal Code are struck down, vulnerable Canadians with disabilities will be put at risk.  CCD will monitor this case as it moves forward.


CBC’s Fifth Estate presented a profile of Gloria Taylor on October 12, 2012 entitled:  “A Year in the Life and Death of Gloria Taylor”.  The program presented an unbalanced view which supported Gloria’s desire for a physician-assisted death.