Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Carter case seeks to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada.

By Alex Schadenberg, executive director – Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

On November 14, the BC Civil Liberties (BCCLA) Carter case, a case that intends to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada will begin to be heard in Vancouver by Justice Lynne Smith.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) obtained intervenor status in the BCCLA Carter case. EPC intends to defend the right of people with disabilities, those with chronic conditions and mental illness and the elderly from having euthanasia or assisted suicide imposed upon them.
Some people have questioned EPC over the statement that the BCCLA Carter case intends to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. The media continues to state that the case would legalize assisted suicide, with no mention of euthanasia.

Euthanasia is prosecuted in Canada as a homicide. Euthanasia is a deliberate act undertaken by one person with the intention of ending the life of another person to relieve that person’s suffering where that act is the cause of death. (1)

Assisted Suicide is the act of intentionally killing oneself with the assistance of another who provides the knowledge, means or both (2) and is prosecuted under Section 241 of the Criminal Code. The assisted suicide statute is designed to protect a person from having another person aid, abet (encourage) or counsel that person to commit suicide.

The Carter case intentionally creates confusion by redefining the language of the debate.

The Carter case defines their term “Consensual Physician Assisted Death” as: “the administration of medication or other treatment that intentionally brings about a patients death by the act of a medical practitioner … or by the act a person acting under the general supervision of a medical practitioner, at the request grievously and irremediably ill patient.” Clearly Consensual Physician Assisted Death includes euthanasia.

The definition of Consensual Physician Assisted Death is not limited to the act of a medical practitioner. The person who does the lethal injection only needs to be “under the general supervision of a medical practitioner.”

The person who dies does not need to be terminally ill but grievously and irremediably ill. What conditions fulfill the definition of grievously and irremediably ill? Certainly chronic conditions, physical disabilities and mental pain qualify under this definition.

To further confuse the court, the Carter case “Notice of Claim” states: “For the purpose of this claim, “Physician-Assisted Suicide” and “Consensual Physician Assisted Death” will be collectively defined as “physician-assisted dying.”

Since the term “physician-assisted dying” is similar to the term “physician-assisted suicide” many commentators have missed the fact that this case intends to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The Carter case is being promoted by the suicide lobby as the Rodriguez II case. This means that the case intends to overturn the Supreme Court Rodriguez decision (1993). The Rodriguez decision (5 – 4) stated that the assisted suicide statute was constitutional and preventing assisted suicide was a necessary protection for vulnerable Canadians.

The BCCLA Carter case argues that there has been a change in public opinion in Canada since 1993 and that “physician-assisted dying” can be legalized with safeguards.

The EPC is arguing that:
• There has not been a significant change in public opinion since 1993. For instance, last year parliament defeated Bill C-384, a bill that would have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada, by a vote of 228 to 59. Polling shows that similar numbers of Canadians appear to support assisted suicide, but very few Canadians strongly support the legalization of assisted suicide.

• In jurisdictions where euthanasia has been legalized, the safeguards that have been developed in those places have been abused.

• Negative social and cultural attitudes towards people with disabilities, those with chronic conditions and the frail elderly are such that legalizing euthanasia and/or assisted suicide will result in some level of abuse for vulnerable groups.

The lived experience expressed by people with disabilities and the growth in the scourge of elder abuse indicates that negative social attitudes have resulted in abuse and forms of overt and subtle pressure may lead to death by euthanasia or assisted suicide.

EPC needs your support. The Carter case seeks to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada by the edict of the courts. If Justice Smith agrees with the arguments of the BCCLA, then we will require the Attorney General of Canada to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

EPC needs your support to:
  • Create awareness of the fact that the Carter case may result in the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada.
  • Our petition campaign intends to give the AG the support that is needed to confidently appeal a potential bad decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. Link to the petition campaign.

  1. Report of the Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, “Of Life and Death”, Senate of Canada, June 1995.
  2. Report of the Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, “Of Life and Death”, Senate of Canada, June 1995.

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