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Assisted dying: Carter family harshly critical of government bill

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OTTAWA – Today, Lee Carter, a key plaintiff in the Carter v. Canada case in which the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the right to physician-assisted dying in Canada, along with her brother Price Carter, criticized the federal government for proposing a new law on assisted dying that does not meet the basic requirements of the court’s decision.

“We fought this case to ensure that people like my mom would have a way to legally and medically put an end to unimaginable suffering like hers,” said Lee Carter. “When we had our victory with the Supreme Court last February, we rejoiced that no Canadian family would ever have to go through the hardship that we endured.  But now under this bill, Kay Carter and many people like her will not qualify because their death is not reasonably foreseeable on account of their illness.”

Lee Carter added: “We call on the government to actually respect the Supreme Court’s decision and to ensure the rights of Canadians to escape intolerable suffering, including those, like Kay Carter, whose illnesses are not terminal. This bill simply must be amended.”

Bill C-14 introduces a requirement that a patient’s death be reasonably foreseeable in order to qualify for an assisted death. The Supreme Court’s decision in Carter did not include such a requirement. Some individuals at the centre of the case, including Kay Carter, would not have died from their illnesses. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that patients who have a grievous and irremediable illness that causes them suffering that is intolerable to that individual have the right to choose physician assistance in dying. There was no requirement that death be foreseeable on account of the patient’s illness.

“This bill forgets what this case is about,” said Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, the human rights watchdog that was a plaintiff in the case. “The case wasn’t just about helping people with terminal illnesses to have a dignified death of their choosing. It was equally about ensuring that people who trapped in unimaginable suffering from non-terminal illnesses have the right to escape a lifetime of indefinite suffering. The ruling was not limited to terminal cases or cases where death would follow from the illness. It was not limited to cases where a person was old and might die some short years down the road. By creating a requirement that death be foreseeable out of thin air, the government will trap people in suffering.”

Lee Carter added: “I am shocked that this government’s proposal would exclude the very people at the core of our case.  Under this proposed legislation, Kay Carter would be denied the rights to a dignified death the Supreme Court ruled she should have had. We fought for half a decade and won our case at the highest court in the land, and this bill would erase the victory that we achieved for people like my mom. It sends us back to square one.”