By Alex Schadenberg,
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
The BCCLA, in Carter, did not limit their challenge to the assisted suicide statutes of the Criminal Code. The definitions used in the case includes a challenge to the laws that protect Canadians from euthanasia.
Justice Smith asked to have the Farewell Foundation case and the Carter case heard together. At a pre-trial hearing Justice Smith indicated that the Carter case would be heard but the case lacked urgency, since Kay Carter had already died in Switzerland and the Carter family had not been prosecuted for their part in their mother’s death.
In response to Justice Smith stating that the Carter case lacked urgency, on June 28, the BCCLA amended their notice of claim by adding Gloria Taylor, a woman who is living with ALS.
On August 3, Justice Smith accepted the amended notice of claim. Due to the health condition of Gloria Taylor, Smith decided to fast-track the Carter case. At the same time Smith questioned the relevancy of the Farewell Foundation case and a few weeks later she rejected the Farewell Foundation case, while encouraging the Farewell Foundation to intervene in the Carter case.
(EPC) and EPC – BC received intervener standing in the Carter case. EPC asked to intervene and to have the right to introduce evidence in the court. The court granted EPC and EPC – BC intervener standing but denied them the right to call evidence.
In early November, the Leblanc case was filed by lawyer René Duval in Trois-Rivières Quebec. Duval seeks to have Canada’s assisted suicide law declared unconstitutional on behalf of his client, Ginette Leblanc, who lives with ALS. The Leblanc case is written in a tighter manner by limiting its challenge to the assisted suicide act and not challenging the law pertaining to euthanasia.
The Carter case was heard from November 14 to December 16 in a Vancouver courtroom. The intervention by EPC and EPC - BC was heard by Justice Smith on December 14.
The Carter case is difficult to define because the BCCLA, on behalf of the Carter family and Gloria Taylor, made it appear that they were seeking to legalize assisted suicide but in fact they were seeking a wider decision that would grant the plaintiffs euthanasia and assisted suicide.
This framework in the Carter case does not restrict the acts of euthanasia or assisted suicide to physicians. Carter defines who carries out the acts as: a person acting “under the general supervision of a medical practitioner.” Family members or other care-givers may be able to act under the general supervision of a medical practitioner. Therefore a family member could cause the death under the language in the Carter case.
The Carter case does not restrict acts of euthanasia or assisted suicide to people who are terminally ill. Carter states that eligibility for death should be based on people who are “grievously and irremediably ill.” Carter does not define the terms grievously or irremediatebly but provides these examples: “cancer, chronic renal failure and/or cardiac failure, and degenerative neurological diseases such as Huntington’s disease and multiple sclerosis.” The definition does not exclude people with chronic disabilities and it is not limited to terminal conditions.
“As a person who is “grievously and irremediably ill” with Grade IV brain cancer, I would be affected should this case succeed. Two and a half years after being given a 20 percent chance of surviving five years, I am doing very well on medication approved by Health Canada only a year ago, within a week of my cancer coming back.In the state of Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, assisted suicide is limited to people with a terminal prognosis of having six months to live. Jeanette Hall, who lives in Oregon, had a terminal prognosis and she wanted to die by assisted suicide. Instead, her physician convinced her to accept further treatment for her cancer. Eleven years later she stated in a letter to the editor:
Had I been given the legal choice of assisted suicide when I first received my terrible prognosis, or when my cancer returned, when I felt hopeless, I don’t know what I would have done.
Now I’m doing very well, thanks to medical advancements that are coming faster than at any time in our history. Our anti-assisted suicide laws protected me and gave me a chance for a long and happy life, just as they were intended to do.”
“I wanted to do what our [assisted suicide] law allowed, and I wanted my doctor to help me. Instead, he encouraged me not to give up, and ultimately I decided to fight my disease… If my doctor had believed in assisted suicide, I would be dead.”Carter has now been argued before Justice Smith and we are waiting for her decision. Based on other decisions that Smith has made and her reputation as an activist judge, we are concerned about the potential of a bad decision by Smith.
If Smith decides, in some way, to legislate from the bench and to legalize euthanasia and/or assisted suicide, then the Attorney General of Canada will need to immediately appeal the decision to the British Columbia Court of Appeal. From their, the case will end-up at the Supreme Court of Canada.
On January 27, 2012; the preliminary hearings are starting in Trois-Rivières Quebec on the Leblanc case. The Leblanc case may be more dangerous than the Carter case because Leblanc limits its challenge to assisted suicide and it does not attempt to impose a wide-open regime of assisted suicide on Canada. If the judge in Quebec decides to overturn our assisted suicide law, then the case will need to also be appealed to the Court of Appeal.
Rene Duval, the lawyer representing Ginette Leblanc, hopes to have their case join the Carter case at the Supreme Court of Canada.
The difficulty with battling issues within the court is:
* It is very hard to predict what a Judge will decide.The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) and EPC – BC co-intervened in the Carter case in British Columbia. EPC and Vivre dans la Dignité in Quebec are seeking to co-intervene in the Leblanc case in Quebec.
* It is very expensive to hire lawyers and argue before the courts.
This is a very difficult undertaking and we will keep you up-to-date on the progress of these cases.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition needs donations towards the cost of the court interventions. Link to donate.http://www.euthanasiaprevention.on.ca/Donations.htm