Top court to decide whether to hear death with dignity case

Ottawa – The Supreme Court of Canada will announce on Thursday, January 16, 2014, whether it will hear BC Civil Liberties Association’s (BCCLA) appeal of the death with dignity case, Lee Carter et al. v. Attorney General of Canada, et al. The case seeks to allow seriously and incurably ill, mentally competent adults the right to receive medical assistance to hasten death under specific safeguards.

The BCCLA petitioned the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the case in October, arguing that the criminal laws that deny seriously ill Canadians the right to choose an assisted death are unconstitutional and the issue is of profound national importance.

The BC Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the Criminal Code of Canada provisions against assisted dying violate the rights of the gravely ill and gave Parliament one year to rewrite the laws. The federal government appealed. The BC Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s ruling in late 2013 and upheld the ban, stating that it was bound by the Supreme Court of Canada’s twenty-year-old Rodriguez decision.

There is not an automatic right of appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Canada’s highest Court chooses which appeals it will hear. If the Court agrees to hear the appeal, the parties will file arguments and the Court will schedule a time to hear the case. If the Court dismisses the BCCLA’s leave application, the case will be over and the decision of the BC Court of Appeal will stand, denying seriously ill Canadians the right to choose an assisted death.

The BCCLA spearheaded the death with dignity case in April 2011. The BCCLA was joined in the lawsuit by Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson, a married couple who accompanied Lee’s 89-year-old mother, Kathleen Carter, to Switzerland in January 2010 to peacefully end her life. It was also joined by Gloria Taylor, who was terminally ill with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Gloria died on October 4, 2012. Recently, Elayne Shapray, a woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) who is seeking the right to die with dignity, also stepped forward in the BCCLA’s challenge to the laws.

What: Supreme Court of Canada to release decision announcing whether it will hear the appeal of the death with dignity case

When: The court will release its decision on Thursday, January 16, 2014, at 6:45 am PST / 9:45 am EST

Where: Ottawa, ON (Supreme Court of Canada)

Who: BC Civil Liberties Association lawyer available for comment.