Kelowna's assisted suicide debate to run before courts decide issue

Gloria Taylor signed on as a co-plaintiff in a medically assisted suicide case currently before the courts; the original plaintiffs, Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson, filed the suit after taking Carter
Gloria Taylor signed on as a co-plaintiff in a medically assisted suicide case currently before the courts; the original plaintiffs, Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson, filed the suit after taking Carter's mother, Kay Carter, to Switzerland to end her life. Carter suffered from spinal stenosis; Taylor has the neurodegenerative disease ALS.
— image credit: contributed

A West Kelowna woman who has signed on to a right-to-die case before the B.C. Supreme Court must wait for one more hurdle before the courts decide her fate and the future of terminally ill patients who want to choose when they die.

On Monday, April 16, both sides in Carter et al, on which West Kelowna’s Gloria Taylor is a co-plaintiff, were asked to provide more evidence in light of the recent Bedford decision.

The Bedford case decided the constitutionality of Canada’s laws against bawdy houses and communicating for the purposes of prostitution, and considered matters of exploitation and harm, which are also considerations in the context of assisted death decisions, according to Justice Lynn Smith, the judge presiding over the Carter case.

As such, Smith is now expected to take more time.

“We were expecting a decision March/April, so it was really to be any day now,” said Wanda Morris, executive director of Dying With Dignity, who provided testimony in the case.

The delay means a debate on whether suicide should be legal, planned for Thursday at Kelowna’s Mary Irwin Theatre, will likely take place before the B.C. court lays out its position.

The Centre For Inquiry, the group responsible for protesting television psychic Sylvia Browne’s recent visit and posting atheist bus advertisements stating there is probably no God, are hosting the event, though it will be moderated by CBC radio morning host Chris Walker.

doreArguing people should not have the right to legally commit suicide will be Margaret Dore, a lawyer from Washington State who unwittingly found herself on the opposing side of right-to-die legislation which she attended a public debate in 2008.

The state made assisted suicide legal via a plebiscite and Dore has been travelling to other states ever since to trying to prevent similar legislation from proceeding.

She believes the laws, as written in the states which have adopted assisted suicide, protect the rights of doctors and heirs over patients and leave the door open for elder abuse and the misuse of power by family members and friends.

“It’s written so that someone who will inherit from the person (who is committing suicide) is allowed to be the one who takes them in and helps them sign up,” she said of the Washington State law, noting she’s found several problems in different laws assembled to deal with the issue.

From loopholes in the definition of self-administered, to problems with the definition of “terminal” illness, a key requirement, she argues the issue is too complicated to legalize—at least as it has been done thus far.

As evidence, she points to the story of Jeanette Hall, who voted for the assisted suicide legislation adopted in Oregon in 1997 and then pursued using the option herself.

Hall had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and given six months to a year to live.

Her doctor opposed the legislation and talked her out of it, offering her another form of treatment. She is alive today, 12 years later.

Wanda MorrisMorris, on the other hand, will argue that the jurisdictions which have adopted right-to-die legislation—Oregon State, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Washington State—have proven that checks and balances can be built into the equation to ensure the patient is giving informed consent.

“In Oregon, the request has to be initiated by the patient, so that’s an oral request and it must be followed by a written request,” she said.

“It then kicks off a whole string of checks and balances.”

There is a request for prescription and a waiting period and only the patient themselves can make the requests to a doctor, she will point out.

Morris got involved in the issue after witnessing a horrific death and deciding that she does not believe Canadians should have to endure pain and suffering that can be avoided.

She believes assisted suicide is a health care issue and an issue which should be dealt with by the medical system.

The debate runs this Thursday, April 19th at the Mary Irwin Theatre in the Rotary Centre for the Arts beginning at 7 p.m. Admission is free.

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