Court ruling carves up the law, allowing exceptions to legalized killing
By Nathan Rumohr
The B.C. Catholic
The B.C. Supreme Court ruled laws outlawing physician-assisted suicide are unconstitutional, paving the way for euthanasia to become legal in Canada.
After Judge Lynn Smith delivered her verdict June 15, Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, was swift to condemn the ruling.
This decision "sadly reflects a distorted view of equality rights that emphasizes autonomy over human dignity and the value of life," he said. "True liberty means the freedom to live one's life secure in the knowledge that those who care for us are dedicated to the service of life, not the taking of life."
Smith suspended her decision for a year to allow parliament a chance to draft new legislation, this despite the fact that parliament came up with a negative decision in April 2010.
Justice Smith ruled in favour of a coalition of plaintiffs, finding that prohibition of physician-assisted suicide "deprives the plaintiffs of their section 7 rights inconsistently with the principles of fundamental justice."
"We are disappointed but not surprised at the radical nature of this decision that essentially legalizes assisted-suicide and euthanasia in Canada," said Dr. Williard Johnston, chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of B.C. (EPCBC).
Dr. Johnston spoke at a press conference in front of The B.C. Supreme Court minutes after the judgment came down. "We think this judgment disregarded a lot of the evidence we presented that showed an abuse of power with assisted-suicide procedures in districts where euthanasia has been legalized."
He said he was also concerned with elder abuse, which he said is a major issue and is hard to detect. He's witnessed elder abuse first hand working as a family doctor.
"If we can't detect elder abuse now, how are we going to detect it when the stakes are raised by legal euthanasia?" Dr. Johnston asked.
The EPCBC is also concerned that a euthanasia law could increase the number of suicides in Canada. Dr. Johnston noted that suicide "contagion" led the state of Oregon to report 30 per cent more suicides shortly after their euthanasia law passed in 1997.
Grace Pastine, the litigation director for The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the ruling was a "watershed decision."
"This case is a major victory for individuals' rights to end their lives," she said. "The court has recognized that Canadians who are seriously and incurably ill will have the right to a physician to assist them to end their lives in a dignified and humane manner."
She said this ruling is major step forward in Canada for the protection of human rights.
Natalie Hudson Sonnen, a spokeswoman for the EPCBC, disagreed that human rights are enhanced by legal euthanasia. She said the judge's decision was made assuming that assisted suicide would be done in ideal situations.
"When you place the killing in the hands of medical practitioners there is no way to control that," she said. "This decision was made in an ideal situation where there would be no abuse or intentions to kill vulnerable people."
She added 38 per cent of doctors polled anonymously in places where assisted suicide is legal admitted to killing patients without their consent.
"Once you grant assisted suicide as a right, which is where we are headed, it becomes a right for all, whether you are deemed competent to make the decision or not."
Archbishop Miller added the world has been down this road before, and all the safeguards put in place to prevent abuse are "disregarded or eventually dispensed with."
"The result is euthanasia harms not only those whose lives are taken, but those responsible for taking them. I strongly urge the government to appeal this extremely flawed and dangerous ruling."
Johnston said he was also concerned with elder abuse, which he said is a major issue in Canada and is hard to detect. He’s witnessed elder abuse first hand working as a family doctor.