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Euthanasia: Canada’s Supreme Court Overturns Ban on Doctor-Assisted Suicide, Making 'Right-to-Die' Legal

( [email protected] ) Feb 07, 2015 12:01 AM EST

Assisted Suicide in Canada
The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa has overturned a 20-year-old ban on doctor-assisted suicide. Photo: The Canadian Press

A legal battle that has lasted for 20 years ended Friday after Canada's Supreme Court ruled that people with terminal illnesses have the right to die.

The ruling, which would allow a doctor to help kill someone near the end-of-life stage, overturned a previous law prohibiting assisted suicide. According to Pete Baklinski of Life Site News, it reversed a previous ruling made back in 1993 that said "the state's obligation to 'protect the vulnerable' outweighed the rights of the individual to self-determination.

"The ruling makes Canada join the ranks of Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Belgium, as well as Oregon and Washington, in allowing assisted suicide," Baklinski wrote.

The court, which made the decision 9-0, elaborated on the ruling that would affect the lives of every Canadian who is or could be terminally ill.

"Section 241 (b) and s. 14 of the Criminal Code unjustifiably infringe s. 7 of the Charter and are of no force or effect to the extent that they prohibit physician-assisted death for a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition," the court stated.

According to Sean Fine of the Globe and Mail, the unanimous ruling established that the "sanctity of life" also included the "passage unto death," which in his opinion extended constitutional rights "into a new realm." Canada's highest court explained that they created a new right to die in the country's constitution because people "may be condemned to a life of severe and intolerable suffering" if the government did not lift its absolute ban on assisted suicide.

"A person facing this prospect has two options: she can take her own life prematurely, often by violent or dangerous means, or she can suffer until she dies from natural causes. The choice is cruel," Canada's highest court wrote.

Assisted Suicide in Canada
Shaun Best /Reuters

Fine reported that the judges dismissed the notion that competent adults cannot consent to their death.

"We do not agree that the existential formulation of the right to life requires an absolute prohibition on assistance in dying, or that individuals cannot 'waive' their right to life. This would create a 'duty to live,'" the ruling said.

Life Site News reported that the court gave Canada's federal government 12 months to draft new rules and laws before the ruling would take effect. The Globe and Mail noted that the Conservative government faced difficult choices as it focuses on an election expected in the fall.

"This is a sensitive issue for many Canadians, with deeply held beliefs on both sides," Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in a prepared statement. "We will study the decision and ensure all perspectives on this difficult issue are heard."

After assisted suicide became legal in Belgium, Switzerland, numerous abuses of this law were reported, where "people are being euthanized without requesting it and the list of those eligible for death has expanded to now include children. Switzerland, known worldwide as the setting for the best-loved children's book "Heidi," has seen its 'suicide tourism' double in the past five years. Over 600 non-Swiss residents travelled to the country between 2008-2012 to be killed."   

Some advocates for disabled people, such as the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living, issued a joint statement condemning the ruling.

"There are difficult days ahead," both advocates wrote. "The Canadian disability movement remains united in our claim that the lives of people with disabilities matter. We speak with one voice in our condemnation of all forms of discrimination and abuse."

Both advocates added that "this degree of permissiveness does not exist anywhere else in the world."

According to the Globe and Mail, the court overturned its own 5-4 ruling from 22 years ago in which it rejected 42-year-old Sue Rodriguez's claim to have a right to assisted suicide, despite the fact she suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Back then, the majority of the court ruled that Parliament "needed flexibility to protect the vulnerable and respect Canadians' views on the sanctity of life."

"In striking down Rodriguez, our highest court told Canadians today that the lives of the weak, infirm, and vulnerable are not worth protecting. The court in essence decided that some people are better off dead than alive and gave power to those who are strong to end the lives of those who are weak. This is a terrible day of shame for Canada," said Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, to LifeSiteNews. 

"We as a country have entered into utter moral blindness if we honestly believe that killing someone in the name of 'compassion' or 'mercy' is a solution to the problem of pain or debilitation. All life is a gift, and no one has the moral right to take that gift away from someone else. This law used to be called: 'You shall not kill.' It is always a false compassion to kill someone who is suffering. There is no dignity in killing the patient instead of the pain."

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, called it a "terrible decision."

"The first act of Parliament must be to use the notwithstanding clause to continue to equally protect every Canadian. Then Parliament and the provincial governments must commit to providing Canadians with the care that they require and deserve."

Lifesite News has started a petition to urge the Canadian Parliament to block Supreme Court's ruling on the doctor-assisted suicide. 

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