Home / ASSISTED DYING: Woman with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and rights watchdog launch legal challenge for right to die with dignity

ASSISTED DYING: Woman with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and rights watchdog launch legal challenge for right to die with dignity

New assisted dying law unconstitutional, says rights watchdog

(French release)

Monday, June 27, 2016

For immediate release

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Today, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and Julia Lamb, a 25-year old woman from Chilliwack, B.C., who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a progressive neurodegenerative disease, launched a legal challenge to the new assisted dying legislation.

The lawsuit challenges the new assisted dying law which restricts medical assistance in dying to Canadians with terminal illness. The law does not permit assistance in dying for those who are suffering with no immediate end in sight.

Canadians with diseases like spinal muscular atrophy, multiple sclerosis, spinal stenosis, locked-in syndrome, traumatic spinal injury, Parkinson’s disease and Huntingdon’s disease are not eligible for medical assistance in dying under the new law.

The Supreme Court of Canada directed that medical assistance in dying should be available to clearly consenting, competent adults with “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions which cause enduring, intolerable suffering. The BCCLA was the rights watchdog responsible for the case.

Ms. Lamb’s disease causes weakness and wasting of the voluntary muscles. Ms. Lamb relies on care aides for assistance with all her daily living activities. At any point, Ms. Lamb’s disease could progress to the point that she is subjected to constant severe pain in which she would lose the ability to use her hands or arms, would require a ventilator for assistance with breathing, and would no longer be able to speak, write or use her computer, and requires constant care, thereby losing her independence. Ms. Lamb could find herself trapped in a state of intolerable physical and mental suffering for years and even decades.

Ms. Lamb, stated: “This is about agency, choice and compassion. This is about the most fundamental values that define being Canadian. Respecting each other’s choices, even when those choices are different from one another. What I am asking for is essential to my wellbeing and autonomy. I am forced to suffer with this disease without a choice, a disease that inherently limits my opportunities for choice. If my suffering becomes intolerable, I would like to be able to make a final choice about how much suffering to endure.”

Grace Pastine, litigation director for the BCCLA stated, “This legislation is clearly unconstitutional. It deliberately excludes a class of Canadians – those who are suffering with no immediate end in sight. How can we turn away and ignore their pleas?”

Josh Paterson, executive director for the BCCLA stated, “The government’s bill will trap patients in intolerable suffering and takes away their hard-won charter right to choose assistance in dying. The new law is unconstitutional because it denies individuals the right to have control over choices that are fundamental to their lives and prevent unnecessary suffering.”

Grace Pastine, stated: “The new legislation will have the perverse effect of forcing seriously ill Canadians to resort to violent methods or the ‘back alley.’ People will find ways to end lives that have become unbearable, even if that means choosing a violent, risky death. No one should be forced to make that cruel choice.”

Under current laws, it is legal to commit suicide. Patients also have a right to accept or refuse medical treatment – for example, a patient can refuse kidney dialysis, or mechanical ventilation, even if that choice leads to death.

The BCCLA and Ms. Lamb are represented by Joseph Arvay, Q.C and Alison Latimer of Farris, Vaughn, Wills & Murphy LLP and Sheila Tucker of Shapray Cramer Fitterman Lamer LLP.

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READ MORE, including the Notice of Civil Claim: www.bccla.org/lamb