Canadians, Not Judges, Must Decide

Winnipeg Free Press, October 12, 2013 | Go to article overview

Canadians, Not Judges, Must Decide


When Sue Rodriguez applied in 1993 for the right to an assisted suicide, her plight as a woman debilitated by Lou Gehrig's disease was not lost on judges. Incapacitated by her condition, she wanted help to end her suffering. But British Columbia's Appeal Court, and then the Supreme Court of Canada, felt they could not strike down the Criminal Code prohibition on assisting or counselling suicide. The blanket ban was necessary to protect the most vulnerable.

On Thursday, the B.C. Appeal Court said the wisdom of the Rodriguez case stands. In overturning the 2012 lower court decision that struck down the ban, it again grappled with the questions at the heart of the debate over a person's right to life, or death. Those issues divide not just courts -- the Supreme Court in 1993 was split 5-4 -- but also Parliament, medical practitioners, people living with incurable conditions, and all Canadians whose opinions on assisted suicide are only superficially tapped by public opinion polls.

One of these questions is how to define the charter's protection of life. Is it simply being alive, or is it the quality of being alive? If a person's quality of life is so degraded it causes unmitigated suffering, can the state reasonably prevent those incapable of suicide from seeking the help of a doctor to die?

The 2012 case was launched by two B.C. women, both dead now. One woman, Gloria Taylor, died of Lou Gehrig's disease in October, eight months after the lower court ruled she had a right to assisted suicide.

That judge found individuals should decide whether their life was worth living, and, if incapable of suicide, should be able to be helped to die. Further, the judge found the Supreme Court in 1993 did not give sufficient consideration to the quality of life -- the ability to enjoy experiences, make decisions, exert control -- when it ruled the need to protect the most vulnerable -- the disabled, the very young, the very old -- justified the criminal ban on assisted suicide.

The Appeal Court upheld the Supreme Court's Rodriguez decision. Further, in its 2-1 ruling, it rejected that the charter protected a person's right to quality of life. Sec. 7 protected life itself, whether for the profoundly disabled, terminally ill or able-bodied.

In dissenting, B. …

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