Home / Media Advisory: BC Civil Liberties Association, plaintiffs and family of Gloria Taylor head to Supreme Court of Canada in landmark assisted dying case

Media Advisory: BC Civil Liberties Association, plaintiffs and family of Gloria Taylor head to Supreme Court of Canada in landmark assisted dying case

Supporters of case speak out for compassion and choice at the end of life

OTTAWA, ONTARIO (October 13, 2014) – Tomorrow, Tuesday, October 14, 2014, at 11 AM the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) will hold a press conference at the National Press Gallery (Ottawa) with Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson, the two lead plaintiffs in the landmark death with dignity lawsuit. The Supreme Court of Canada will hear the case on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 9 AM.

The BCCLA is the civil liberties watchdog responsible for launching the case.The BCCLA’s lawsuit argues that the laws are unconstitutional because they deny individuals the right to have control over choices that are fundamental to their lives and prevent unnecessary suffering. The lawsuit also claims that the laws restrict the liberty of physicians to deliver compassionate end of life care to incurably ill patients. The laws deny equality to the physically disabled by criminalizing a choice – the choice to end suffering through suicide — that is available to the able-bodied.

Grace Pastine, Litigation Director for the BCCLA said, “We are looking forward to making our case to Canada’s highest court. This has been a grueling legal battle and we are hopeful that the court will agree with us that seriously ill Canadians deserve a dignified and peaceful exit, rather than being forced to live in fear about how they will die. The federal government has no place at bedsides of seriously ill Canadians who have made firm decisions about the amount of suffering they will endure at the end of life. Now is the time for Canada’s highest court to decriminalize physician-assisted dying and give seriously ill patients the compassion and dignity they deserve.”

The BCCLA filed the case in April 2011 on behalf of Ms. Carter and Mr. Johnson, a married couple of Roberts Creek, B.C., who accompanied Lee’s 89-year-old mother, Kathleen (“Kay”) Carter, to Switzerland to peacefully end her life. Ms. Carter and Mr. Johnson have lived in the fear that they could be criminally prosecuted for helping Kay Carter. The maximum penalty for assisting suicide is 14 years imprisonment. Kay Carter suffered from spinal stenosis, a degenerative condition that confined her to a wheelchair, unable to feed herself or go to the bathroom without assistance and suffering from chronic pain.

Ms. Carter said, “My mother was a vibrant, intelligent, independent woman who lived with resolve and refused to suffer needlessly at the end of her life. I strongly believe that we are honouring my mother’s memory by asking Canada’s highest court to provide people like her the right to choose how and when to die. I am one of her seven children and I believe that my mom should never have been forced to seek a death outside of Canada – away from her home – and without all of us at her side.”

Ms. Carter’s brother, Price Carter, her sister, Marie Trewalla, and Kay Carter’s sister, Val Porter, will attend the Supreme Court of Canada hearings.

Gloria Taylor, who was terminally ill with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease was also a plaintiff in the case. Gloria died of natural causes in 2012. Anne Fomenoff, Gloria’s 86 year-old mother of Castlegar, B.C. and Patty Ferguson, Gloria’s youngest sister, of Edmonton, Alberta, travelled across the country attend the Supreme Court of Canada hearings.

Ms. Fomenoff said, “Gloria dreamed of legal change for all Canadians. She believed that those with a terminal or hopeless illness should have the option of a pain-free, peaceful and dignified death. I am so proud of my feisty, independent daughter. This case is her legacy and I can hear Gloria saying to me now, “Let’s do this, mom! It’s time to make a difference. The time is now!”

The BCCLA’s lawsuit will have far-reaching implications. The Supreme Court of Canada will determine whether the federal laws that criminalize physician assisted dying should be struck down for all Canadians and whether provinces are constitutionally entitled to enact legislation that allows for physician assisted dying, as Quebec has done.

Josh Paterson, Executive Director for the BCCLA, said, “Canadians should have the right to decide how much suffering to endure at the end of life, based on their own beliefs and values. It makes no sense that patients have a right to  refuse medical treatment – like kidney dialysis –  even if that choice leads to death, but it’s a crime for a doctor to help someone like Gloria Taylor die at peace, without suffering, surrounded by the comfort of family and friends.”

It has been twenty years since Canada’s highest court looked at the issue, dismissing a challenge to the law in the 1993 Sue Rodriguez case. Since that time, many countries including Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the states of Oregon and Washington, enacted legislation allowing assisted dying. These programs have been rigorously documented and studied, revealing that the fears about decriminalization are unfounded. A recent Ipsos Reid poll determined that 86 per cent of Canadians support the right to die for individuals who have a serious, incurable illness that result in unbearable suffering. The poll surveyed over 2,500 Canadians and is the most comprehensive survey undertaken on the public’s perception of assisted dying.

The court has scheduled one day for oral arguments in the case. The hearing will begin at 9:00 am ET on Wednesday, October 15th. The BCCLA will be the first party to argue.  After the hearing, the average length of time for the court to render a judgment on an appeal is six months.

Read more about the case at https://bccla.org/our-work/death-with-dignity-case/

Photographers: The plaintiffs and family members will be available for photographs before the press conference at 10:15 AM ET on the front steps of centre block Parliament Hill.

Charlotte Kingston, BCCLA media liaison: [email protected]
Lawyers for the BCCLA, plaintiffs and family members are available for interviews regarding the case.