BC Civil Liberties Association fights for right to die with dignity at the Supreme Court of Canada

For immediate release

OTTAWA, ONTARIO (January 11, 2016) – Today, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) makes arguments to the Supreme Court of Canada in the landmark death with dignity case, Carter v. Canada.

The BCCLA will oppose the federal government’s request for a further six-month delay to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling on physician-assisted dying. Lawyers for the BCCLA, Joseph Arvay, Q.C., Sheila Tucker, and Alison Latimer, will argue that further delay is not necessary and will cause critically ill Canadians to live in suffering and die agonizing deaths against their wishes.

The BCCLA is the civil liberties watchdog responsible for launching the case. Last year, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Canadians suffering unbearably with a grievous, irremediable medical condition have the right to seek a compassionate death with the assistance of a doctor.

The Supreme Court delayed the effect of its ruling for 12 months to give Parliament and the provincial legislatures time in which they could choose to enact legislative guidelines upholding the right of patients to die with dignity. The court made it clear that Parliament and the provincial legislatures could choose not to enact any legislation. In its decision, the Supreme Court stated: “It is for Parliament and the provincial legislatures to respond, should they choose, by enacting legislation consistent with the constitutional parameters set out in these reasons.” The judgment is set to come into effect on February 6, 2016.

Grace Pastine, Litigation Director for the BCCLA, said: “Critically ill Canadians are living in anguish with diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, MS and cancer. Some of their deaths will be agonizing. It’s cruel to deny them the option of a humane death. The government is asking for more time, but many Canadians simply can’t wait any longer.” In an affidavit filed with the court, Elayne Shapray of Vancouver, B.C., who suffers from MS stated, “Six months may not seem like a lot of time to some people – to me, every second of every day is weighted with suffering and six months feels like an eternity. Yet, I am at the same time well aware that six months may also exceed the length of my remaining life span. During those six months, I will suffer, but I may also die the kind of death that I dread, the kind of death that I have spent the last four years supporting the legal fight for the right to choose against.”

Pastine said: “Canadians have a right to expect that the work of the government will be continuous, even if there’s a general election. If the ruling comes into effect as planned on February 6, doctors will be willing and able to safely provide assistance in dying. Physician-assisted dying will be regulated by the rigorous standards of the medical profession and provincial health laws, just like any other medical treatment. Many provincial Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, the medical bodies that regulate doctors, have already issued specific guidelines on the practice. The Supreme Court provided doctors with clear guidance. It specified that its ruling applies only to individuals who have “grievous” and “irremediable” medical conditions. The patient must clearly request to end his or her life. And the ruling only applies to mentally competent adults with enduring, intolerable suffering.

The BCCLA is represented by Sheila Tucker of DLA Piper (Canada) LLP and Joseph Arvay, Q.C. and Alison Latimer of Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy LLP.

Read more about the case here.