Groups opposing euthanasia have expressed alarm over a B.C. Judge’s recent ruling that allows Gloria Taylor, a B.C. woman dying of a degenerative nerve disorder, a constitutional exemption to an assisted suicide should her symptoms worsen in the next year.
Taylor, one of the plaintiffs in the controversial Carter case decided last June, had been granted the exemption when B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith struck down Canada’s laws against assisted suicide and euthanasia as unconstitutional on Charter grounds. Smith ruled the laws would be kept in force for a year so Parliament could react with new legislation, but allowed Taylor the exemption while the law is still in force.
In July, the federal government appealed the Carter decision, including the constitutional exemption.
On Aug. 10, B.C. Justice Jo-Ann Prowse, however, ruled removing the exemption would cause Taylor “irreparable harm” by taking away the solace and peace of mind of knowing she could obtain an assisted suicide and by removing her ability to have one before her symptoms became unbearable.
“The suggestion that denying Ms. Taylor the exemption would have caused her irreparable harm is absurd,” said Peter Murphy, assistant director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF). “Surely to kill or to facilitate killing is to do irreparable harm.”
“Do we really want to live in country where individual Judges hold the keys to life and death?” he asked. “The value of human life can never be measured by some subjective notion of its quality.”
Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) executive director Alex Schadenberg questioned whether judges were “overstepping.”
He pointed out the Supreme Court of Canada upheld Parliament’s laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide the 1993 Rodriguez case. Sue Rodriguez, who also had ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, found an anonymous doctor who helped her end her life in 1994.
“It appears to me that judges are trying to make decisions that fit what they want rather than the law and judicial precedence,” Schadenberg said. “They’re writing their laws, their own script, and it’s very concerning to me.”
The Carter decision will be argued before the B.C. Court of Appeal March 4-8, 2013 and many have argued the constitutional exemption is an exception only for Taylor. But Schadenberg pointed out that others may seek exemptions under the principle of equality before the law.
“Other people who fit the criteria would have to be taken seriously,” he said, noting he expected lawyers in the Ginette LeBlanc case to be argued in Quebec this December to ask for one. LeBlanc also suffers from ALS.
“Technically, the law has not changed. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are still completely illegal. Rodriquez is still upheld,” Schadenberg said. “But a judge is saying it is okay in this circumstance, the laws do not apply. It’s not about Parliament, not about the Supreme Court, it’s about a single judge.”
“We’re putting the power of life and death in the hands of a judge or a doctor,” he said.
Schadenberg said the federal Attorney General can appeal this latest ruling on the constitutional exemption and urged Canadians to let Justice Minister Rob Nicholson know they want him to do so.