In 2011, several claimants challenged the Federal Court of Canada against the laws that surround an ill person’s ability to end their life with the help of a physician. The British Columbia Civil Liberties, a patient withthe degenerative diseaseALS, a couple who traveled to use an assisted suicide clinic for an ill and elderly family member and a physician willing to participate in physician-assisted dying (if it were legal) were among the group that challenged the constitutionality of the provisions of the Criminal Code.
The British Columbia Trial judge ruled that the prohibition against physician-assisted dying violates s.7 of the Charter as the rights of competent adults who are suffering immensely as a result of irremediable health conditions are not justified under s.1 of the Charter.
History Repeats Itself
The Attorney General of British Columbia appealed the decision to the British Columbia Court of Appeal. They allowed the appeal on the basis that the trial judge was bound to follow the court’s decision in a previous case (Rodriguez).
In 1973, the Rodriguez case presented42-year old Sue Rodriguez,who was suffering from a debilitating and terminal illness. She wished to have a qualified physician help assist her in terminating her life at the time of her choosing. However, it was found that her wishes violated s.241(b) of the Criminal Code – assisting a person to commit suicide. Ms. Rodriguez declared that this was invalid when looked at in accordancewith the Canadian Charter as it violated sections 7, 12, and 15.
In a five to four decision, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the appeal and found s.241(b) to be constitutional.
The parties of the Death with Dignity case challenged the Supreme Court’s decision in the Rodriguez case to create an impact on federal and provincial levels, challenge the interpretation of the law, and challenge the system of societal values.
After a four-year legal struggle, in February 2015 the claimants won a historic victory on behalf of all Canadians.However, after a request for an extension, the Supreme Court delayed the effect of its ruling until June 6, 2016.
- The federal government proposed new legislation that would only apply to individuals whose death is “reasonably foreseeable” – therefore only a person with a terminal disease would be considered for assisted death. It would not be measured by a person’s suffering, so not everyone will have access to this medical assistance.
For example, the BCCLA’s main client Kay Carter who suffered from spinal stenosis would be barred from accessing medical assistance to facilitate her own death.
- On June 16, 2016 the House of Commons put through a rushed vote for Bill C-14 which inevitably rejected key amendments made by Senate MPs.
- The Trudeau Government is refusing to change the eligibility criteria for assisted-death and only minor changes were taken into consideration.
The outcome of this controversial case was disappointing for the BCCLA – who truly fought for Canadians’ choice regarding assisted-death. Right now the current legislation does not extend the right of assisted dying to mature minors, people suffering solely from mental illnesses, or people with painful or debilitating conditions who suffer daily as a result.