The federal government says it will appeal last month’s B.C Supreme Court ruling that struck down Canada’s assisted suicide law that said the current law is unconstitutional.
While the ruling gave the federal government one-year to re-write the legislation, it also gave West Kelowna’s Gloria Taylor, one of the plaintiffs in the case, a constitutional exemption allowing her to end her life with the assistance of a doctor.
Taylor suffers from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and during the court case, the judge was told her condition was deteriorating.
Federal Attorney-General Rob Nicolson said the government believes the current law prohibiting anyone, including medical professionals, from counselling or actually helping someone commit suicide is constitutionally valid and its lawyers would make that case to the B.C. Court of Appeal.
In addition to asking for an immediate stay of the Supreme Court ruling, he said the government will also ask for a stay to he exemption given to Taylor.
In her 395-page ruling last month, Judge Lynn Smith agreed with Taylor and the other plaintiffs — a couple who helped the wife’s aging and ill mother go to Switzerland to have an assisted suicide (it is legal in that country), the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, and a Victoria doctor who wants to help his terminally ill patients who want to commits suicide to do so—that the current law prohibiting assisted-suicide discriminates against those who are grievously ill or physically impaired and cannot do what able-bodied Canadians can. Suicide is not illegal in Canada, said Smith and so making it illegal for some infringes on their rights.
Taylor, confined to a wheelchair and who has to use a feeding tube, wanted an assurance from the court that when she is ready to end her life, those who help her will not be criminally charged.
The exemption she was granted allows her to seek assistance with ending her life within a year.
Prior to the court case, Taylor said she felt it is important that any new law include provisions to make sure any person seeking to end their life is the one to make the decision and does so with a clear mind.
But assisted suicide opponents, such as the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, which had intervener status in the court case, as well as the defendants, the federal and provincial governments, say throwing out Canada’s ban on assisted suicide would put vulnerable patients lives at risk.
Following Smith’s ruling, many observers predicted the case will eventually go to the Supreme Court of Canada for a ruling.
The last time Canada’s highest court ruled on the issue was in 1993 when Victoria’s Sue Rodrigez, another ALS sufferer, petitioned the court to allow assisted suicide. The court ruled against her but she went ahead with her plan anyway with the assistance of an unidentified doctor. No one was ever charged in her death.
Tayler has called Rodriguez a hero for attempt to make it legal for the terminally ill to die with dignity.