BC rules on assisted suicide
Oct 10, 2013 / 10:35 am
Update - 10:30 a.m.
In a split decision, B.C.'s Court of Appeal has reversed a lower court ruling that said Canada's assisted-suicide ban violated the charter rights of gravely ill Canadians.
Two of the three judges ruled that while the law banning assisted suicide has certainly evolved in the last two decades, it hasn't changed enough to undermine the 1993 decision from Supreme Court of Canada.
While there's no automatic right to take the case to the highest court in civil cases, the issue is widely believed to be headed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The federal government had appealed the decision from the B.C. Supreme Court, which ruled last year that safeguards could be put in place to protect against the risks associated with doctor-assisted dying.
Several plaintiffs, including ALS patient Gloria Taylor and the children of Kay Carter, who travelled to Switzerland to seek doctor-assisted suicide in 2010, launched the challenge.
Justices Mary Newbury and Mary Saunders agreed in the decision released Thursday that while the law banning assisted suicide has certainly evolved in the last two decades, it hasn't changed enough to undermine the 1993 decision from Supreme Court of Canada.
"As the law now stands, there doesn not appears to be an avenue for relief from a generally sound law that has an extraordinary, even cruel, effect on a small number of individuals," the judges wrote in a joint ruling.
When the Supreme Court of Canada last considered the issue of assisted suicide, the judges were split in favour of upholding the current law in a case involving Sue Rodriguez.
Assisted suicide is legal in other jurisdictions, such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the American states of Oregon and Washington.
Proponents of legalization have pointed to those jurisdictions to argue it's possible to allow physician-assisted death while putting in rules and safeguards to protect vulnerable patients.
The B.C. Court of Appeal is set to rule today on the constitutionality of Canada's prohibition on doctor-assisted suicide.
The court was asked to examine the law after the B.C. Supreme Court ruled last year that the law violates the charter rights of gravely ill patients by preventing them from seeking the help of a doctor to end their suffering.
Several plaintiffs, including ALS patient Gloria Taylor and the children of Kay Carter, who travelled to Switzerland to seek a doctor-assisted suicide in 2010, launched the challenge.
The earlier decision said patients in such scenarios must personally request physician-assisted death, must be free from coercion and cannot be clinically depressed.
Whatever the Appeal Court rules, observers believe the case is destined for the Supreme Court of Canada.
The federal government insists allowing assisted suicide would demean the value of life and increase the possibility of vulnerable people being coerced to end their lives.
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