Supreme Court of Canada orders legalization of physician assisted suicide – AND euthanasia

Physicians unwilling to kill already face demands that they find someone who will

Protection of Conscience Project News Release

In a 9-0 ruling the Supreme Court of Canada struck down two sections of Canada’s Criminal Code “insofar as they prohibit physician-assisted death” in circumstances outlined by the Court. It appears that most or all of the major media outlets understood this to mean that the Court had legalized physician assisted suicide.

In fact, the Court has authorized physicians not only to help eligible patients commit suicide, but to kill them – whether or not they are capable of suicide. The ruling permits both physician assisted suicide and physician administered euthanasia in the case of competent adults  who have clearly consented to being killed, and who have a grievous irremediable medical condition “including an illness, disease or disability” that causes “enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual.”

The Court limited its ruling to the facts of the Carter case, but offered no opinion “on other situations” where physicians might be asked to kill patients or help them commit suicide. It is highly likely that the parameters set by the Court in Carter will be expanded in federal or provincial laws or in later litigation. It would certainly be a serious mistake to presume that the goalposts set in Carter will not be moved.

Even where euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal, most physicians are unwilling to do what the Supreme Court of Canada now expects Canadian physicians to do: lethally inject patients and write prescriptions for lethal medications.

However, acknowledging the joint intervention of the Protection of Conscience Project, Catholic Civil Rights League and Faith and Freedom Alliance and submissions by others, including the Canadian Medical Association, the Court stated: “In our view, nothing in the declaration of invalidity which we propose to issue would compel physicians to provide assistance in dying.”

The judges noted that “a physician’s decision to participate in assisted dying is a matter of conscience and, in some cases, of religious belief,” and that “the Charter rights of patients and physicians will need to be reconciled.”

Unfortunately, euthanasia activists understand “reconciliation” to mean that physicians unwilling to kill patients or help them kill themselves should be forced to refer them to a colleague willing to do so. This is the view of Dr. James Downar, a Toronto palliative care physician, who told the Canadian Medical Association Journal that it is critical to ensure all Canadians have access to “physician assisted dying.”

Commenting on the remarks attributed to Dr. Downar, Protection of Conscience Project Administrator Sean Murphy noted that many other palliative care physicians were concerned about ensuring access to palliative care, not finding physicians willing to kill patients.

“They certainly aren’t inclined to force colleagues to participate in assisted suicide and euthanasia,” he said. “Quite the contrary: many would refuse to direct patients to physicians willing to kill them or help them commit suicide.”

Carter is not the last word on the euthanasia, assisted suicide and freedom of conscience,” he added, “but only the first of many to come.”

For details, see Supreme Court of Canada orders legalization of physician assisted suicide – AND euthanasia

Project intervenes in the Supreme Court of Canada

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

Today the Protection of Conscience Project joined the Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) and Faith and Freedom Alliance in a joint intervention at the Supreme Court of Canada in Carter v. Canada, a case seeking the legalization of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.

The appeal necessarily involves the issue of freedom of conscience for healthcare providers.   An indeterminate number of healthcare providers consider killing patients or assisting in suicide morally or ethically abhorrent. Their views  are consistent with the current Canadian legal framework, which would be fundamentally changed if euthanasia and assisted suicide were legalized.  Such a change in the law would generate demands that physicians and other healthcare providers directly or indirectly participate in what they consider to be gravely immoral activities.

In the event that the Supreme Court strikes down the criminal law as it relates to euthanasia or assisted suicide, the intervention urged the Court to “make clear to the legislature that any legislation in this area must protect the freedom of conscience of healthcare providers,” ensuring that “healthcare providers are not directly or indirectly coerced into becoming parties to killing patients or assisting patients kill themselves.”

In a Backgrounder on the intervention, Project Administrator Sean Murphy notes the need for robust protection for freedom of conscience among healthcare providers if the law is changed. In that case, he argues, direction from the Court will be needed “to correct a dangerous error that has become increasingly widespread: that the state or a profession may impose upon people a duty to do what they believe to be wrong – even if that means killing people.”

Elsewhere, he observes that the history of abortion law reform in Canada demonstrates that healthcare providers “cannot rely on mere promises of tolerance and respect for freedom of conscience.”

” The greater the demand for a procedure -whether the demand arises from the number of patients or from ideological rights claims –  the sooner objecting health care workers will face discrimination, harassment and coercion. ”

The intervention was presented on behalf of the interveners by Robert Staley, with the participation of Ranjan Agarwal, Jack Maslen, and Sheridan Scott, all of Bennett Jones LLP, together with CCRL President, Philip Horgan.  27 interventions were approved by the Court.

A decision is expected in the Spring of 2015.


Supreme Court of Canada accepts appeal of assisted suicide/euthanasia decision

The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal from the decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal, which overturned a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that approved physician assisted suicide and euthanasia.  Carter v. Canada (Attorney General).

Supreme Court of Canada signals change in jurisprudence

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down three laws restricting prostitution and suspended the effect of its ruling for one year to give the government an opportunity to draft replacement legislation.  Some observers are of the view that the ruling increases the likelihood that assisted suicide or euthanasia will be legalized in Canada, either by judicial fiat or by legislation supporting such a change.  In the prostitution judgement, the court granted lower courts much greater latitude to set aside earlier Supreme Court precedents if new legal issues are raised, or if there has been some other change that “fundamentally shifts the parameters of the debate.”

The Supreme Court is set to hear an appeal from British Columbia in the case of Carter v. Canada, which turns on a precedent established by the Supreme Court in 1993 in the Rodriguez case.  The circumstances are virtually identical (plaintiffs suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease seeking a right to assisted suicide/euthanasia).  The Supreme Court judge in Carter distinguished the case from Rodriguez on some issues and ruled in favour of the plaintiff, but the British Columbia Court of Appeal overturned the ruling in a split decision, citing the Rodriguez precedent as binding.  Since the Supreme Court accepted the trial judge’s finding in the prostitution case that new evidence required a precedent to be set aside, counsel for the plaintiffs in the Carter case is optimistic that it will take the same approach when ruling on euthanasia. [National Post]