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Lamb v. Canada: the Death with Dignity case continues

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On June 27, 2016, the BCCLA filed a constitutional challenge to the new assisted dying law (Bill C-14), a restrictive federal law that violates the rights of suffering Canadians.

The BCCLA has launched this challenge with Julia Lamb, a 25-year old B.C. woman who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a progressive neurodegenerative disease.

We believe that grievously and irremediably ill Canadians who are suffering unbearably should have the right to choose a dignified and peaceful death. This right was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada last year in the BCCLA’s groundbreaking Carter v. Canada case, but the federal government’s new bill leaves many seriously ill Canadians, like Julia, behind. They have no choice but to go back to court to fight for a right they have already won. As we always have, the BCCLA will stand with them.

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After a four-year legal struggle, on February 6, 2015, we won a historic victory on behalf of all Canadians in Carter v. Canada, when the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled to strike down the laws criminalizing physician-assisted dying. After the government requested an extension, the Supreme Court delayed the effect of its ruling until June 6, 2016.

Now, the federal government has passed a restrictive law that violates the rights of suffering Canadians.

The law restricts medical assistance in dying only to those Canadians whose illness is terminal and who are near death.

This flies in the face of the Carter decision. The Supreme Court 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 new federal law will trap many Canadians in unbearable suffering. Canadians with diseases like spinal muscular atrophy, multiple sclerosis, spinal stenosis, locked‑in syndrome, traumatic spinal injury, Parkinson’s disease and Huntingdon’s disease will not be eligible for medical assistance in dying under the new law.

Julia is one of many Canadians who have been abandoned by the new law. In the last couple of years, Julia has become more and more concerned about her declining health. She fears the worst possible version of her future – one where she suffers increased pain and discomfort, has difficulty breathing sufficiently well on her own, loses her independence and loses her ability to express herself.

Julia wants the peace of mind of knowing that if her suffering becomes intolerable, she will have the right to seek medical assistance in dying. But because she could suffer intolerably for decades without dying from her illness, the new law takes that right away from her.

The federal government has left Julia and other seriously ill Canadians with no choice but to go back to court to fight for a right they already won.  As we have for more than two decades, the BCCLA will stand with them.

The same legal team that won the Carter case is working with the BCCLA to protect Julia’s rights and the rights of all Canadians: Joseph Arvay, Q.C and Alison Latimer of Farris, Vaughn, Wills & Murphy LLP and Sheila Tucker of Shapray Cramer Fitterman Lamer LLP.

Our incredible pro bono lawyer team is working for free, but we still need to raise funds for a whole range of legal costs.

You can donate online here: https://www.gifttool.com/donations/Donate?ID=2040&AID=2988, or call Catherine Hart at 604-630-9757 to make a donation over the phone.

You are also welcome to send a cheque or donation card to:

900 Helmcken Street, 2nd Floor,
Vancouver, BC
V6Z 1B3

If you are a critically ill Canadian who would like access to medical assistance in dying but you, too, have been left behind; please let us know if you are interested in helping this case. Email our Legal Assistant, Jessi Halliday, at jessi@bccla.org or call (604) 630-9748 to leave a confidential message.

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Julia-in-BubbleJulia Lamb

Julia Lamb is a 25-year old B.C. woman who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (“SMA”), Type 2, a hereditary disease that causes weakness and wasting of the voluntary muscles. It is a progressive degenerative disease with no known cure or effective treatment.

Julia is free-spirited, creative and independent. She has a fulfilling job as a marketing assistant for a fashion company and a close network of friends and family. However, Julia must rely on her home care aides for assistance with all her daily living activities, including bathing, dressing, using the washroom and preparing meals. She experiences frequent pain from muscle contractures. She suffers from falls and repeated broken bones on account of severe osteoporosis. She has breathing difficulties.

In the last couple of years, Julia has become more and more concerned about her declining health. Julia feels a shadow looming over her. She fears the worst possible version of her future – one where she suffers increased pain and discomfort, has difficulty breathing sufficiently well on her own, loses her independence and loses her ability to express herself.
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Case Documents

Press release [English] [French]

Carter v Canada

Photos (1)

Photos of Julia Lamb for media use. Credit: Emilie Kernohan

   Julia Lamb 1   Julia Lamb 2