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DEATH WITH DIGNITY: Civil Liberties Watchdog, Plaintiffs and Family of Gloria Taylor Begin Journey to the Supreme Court of Canada

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

VANCOUVER, B.C. (May 19, 2014) – The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) is beginning its landmark journey to the Supreme Court of Canada to fight for the right for physician-assisted dying for the seriously ill.

Last week the BCCLA filed its written arguments in the case. Today plaintiffs Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson and family members of the deceased lead plaintiff Gloria Taylor gathered in Vancouver to announce their journey to Canada’s highest court. Elayne Shapray, a woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS), who provided evidence in the case, joined them.

The BCCLA’s lawsuit argues that the laws that criminalize doctors for helping competent, seriously ill individuals who wish to hasten death are unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Canada will hear oral arguments in the case on October 14, 2014.

Grace Pastine, Litigation Director for the BCCLA, said, “It has been 20 years since the Supreme Court of Canada heard Sue Rodriguez’ plea for justice. Since that time, there has been a sea change in social thinking on these issues. Many countries now allow for assisted dying, and their experience reveals that the fears are unfounded. It’s time for Canada to adopt a new approach to dying that respects compassionate choice.”

Ms. Carter and Mr. Johnson, a married couple of Roberts Creek, B.C., accompanied Ms. Carter’s 89-year-old mother, Kathleen Carter, to Switzerland in January 2010 to peacefully end her life. Ms. Carter said, “My mother was a great woman who lived with independence and 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.”

Lead plaintiff Gloria Taylor, who was terminally ill with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, died of natural causes on October 4, 2012. Ms. Taylor was the first Canadian ever to win the right to ask a doctor for help in dying.

Jason Taylor, of Kelowna, B.C., Gloria’s eldest son, said, “This is case is about choice. My mother strongly believed that all Canadians should have the right to decide how much suffering to endure at the end of life, based on their own values and beliefs. It doesn’t make any sense that it’s legal to commit suicide, or to ask a doctor to disconnect a ventilator, but it’s a crime for a doctor to help someone like my mother to die at peace, without suffering, surrounded by the comfort of family and friends.”

Anne Fomenoff, Gloria’s 85 year-old mother of Castlegar, B.C., said, “I’m so proud of what my daughter accomplished and I am committed to honouring her legacy. When a person has already suffered so much with their disease, like my daughter suffered with ALS, it’s cruel to make them suffer even more in dying. It’s time for a change to the law. I can hear Gloria encouraging me, ‘Go for it, mom!’ ”

Ms. Shapray said, “It is my great hope that the Supreme Court of Canada will strike down this cruel and discriminatory law. The law forces people in my position who suffer from an interminable, progressively debilitating disease, to think about death every day. Ending my life through self-starvation, over medication or some other self-inflicted injury are my only options until the Court rules that the law is unconstitutional. We allow our suffering dogs more humane treatment than we do ourselves.”

The BCCLA filed the case in April 2011. The BC Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the Criminal Code of Canada provisions against assisted dying violate the constitutional 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, holding that in light of the Sue Rodriguez decision only the Supreme Court of Canada was entitled to consider whether the law was constitutional.

It has been twenty years since Canada’s highest court looked at the issue, dismissing a challenge to the law in the Sue Rodriguez case. In that case, the Court upheld the law in a 5-4 decision.

The BCCLA is represented by lawyers Joseph Arvay, Q.C. and Alison Latimer of Farris, Vaughan, Willis and Murphy LLP and Sheila Tucker of Davis LLP.

Read more about the case here >>

Read the filed argument here >>