Interveners in assisted-suicide case say legalization would harm the vulnerable
By Brent Mattson
The B.C. Catholic
VANCOUVER--After weeks of waiting, opponents of legal euthanasia and assisted suicide had their day in court.
Two intervener groups spoke against the B.C. Civil Liberties Association assisted-suicide case at the B.C. Supreme Court Dec. 14.
Lawyers Bradley Miller and Hugh Scher presented the positions of the Christian Legal Fellowship and Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, respectively. They argued on the side of the government, which is fighting a claim from the BCCLA that the criminal code laws against assisted suicide are unconstitutional.
“It’s inconsistent with fundamental values of the Canadian constitution,” which hold “that all lives are equally valuable,” Miller said to Justice Lynn Smith in court.
The plaintiffs in the case include Lee Carter, Hollis Johnson, Dr. William Shoichet, and the BCCLA. In 2010 Carter and her husband Johnson accompanied Carter’s 89-year-old mother to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, so she could arrange to die.
Miller and Scher both argued the danger of legalizing assisted suicide, citing examples from places such as the Netherlands and Oregon, where it is legal.
Scher argued that a legal precedent allowing one to assist a suicide singles out, and is harmful to, disabled and terminally ill people. He added that numerous studies and government reviews agree that an absolute prohibition of assisted dying is the most effective means of preserving life and protecting the vulnerable.
“A constitutional principal for a class of people based on health and disability status is a lethal form of discrimination,” he said. “Adequate safeguards (for legal euthanasia) cannot be adopted; an unequivocal and absolute rule is required.”
“There’s no insurance to limit the taking of life to those who are truly ill.” Once assisted dying is accepted, it would be difficult to stop the “vague nature of the criteria” for assisted dying from broadening, as it has in the Netherlands, Miller said.
He added there is a possibility of patients’ lives being terminated without request or without a physical evaluation. He added that Oregon and Holland allow doctors too much freedom, since governments rely on doctors to report on themselves.
“Self-reporting by physicians” is ineffective, because “the intimate nature of physician-patient relationship defies effective oversight.”
Scher said legalizing assisted dying would change a physician’s relationship to patients when they became disabled or terminally ill.
“It permits the physician to aid in the assisted suicide of a patient, an act that would be a crime but for the person’s disability.”
Scher also argued, as evidenced in Oregon, physical pain is not the precursor for seeking assistance in dying. Instead, he said feelings of being a burden, loss of autonomy, and fear about the future push patients to decide to end their lives.
Miller also stated that outside pressures cause people to choose assisted dying. He said people can suffer from guilt and lack of self-worth from “subtle and not so subtle pressure from family, physicians, and society to submit to physician-assisted suicide.”