Friday, June 15, 2012
B.C. Supreme Court strikes down ban on doctor-assisted suicide
VANCOUVER—The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled that a terminally ill woman is allowed to have a doctor-assisted suicide.
The stunning decision Friday gives Gloria Taylor, a 64-year-old woman with late-stage ALS, a constitutional exemption to proceed with physician-assisted suicide.
It’s a ruling that has long been sought by right-to-die organizations in Canada and long fought against by anti-euthanasia groups.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith ruled she was giving Taylor an “exceptional remedy of a constitutional exemption” while Parliament decides whether and how to respond to the declarations of constitutional invalidity.
Smith placed a 12-month extension on her ruling, which means that while she has ruled the current law invalid, Parliament has one year to change the law.
In her 395-page ruling, Smith found that Taylor’s Charter rights were violated under the 20-year law, which made it a criminal offence for anyone to arrange and receive assistance in their own death.
Smith found that the current legislation infringes Taylor’s equality rights because the law does not prohibit suicide. Smith added that people who are so physically disabled that they cannot commit suicide without help are denied that option because s.241 in the Criminal Code prohibits assisted suicide.
“The provisions regarding assisted suicide have a more burdensome effect on persons with physical disabilities than on able-bodied persons, and thereby create, in effect, a distinction based on physical disability,” she ruled.
Taylor, a divorced mother with two grown sons and an 11-year-old granddaughter, was one of five plaintiffs in the suit seeking to overturn the current legislation. Of the plaintiffs, she has become the most visible because her condition is the most dire.
Taylor will be allowed to have a physician-assisted suicide if she meets a number of conditions that include an assessment from a psychiatrist and confirmation from her physician that the woman has been fully informed about her prognosis and the ability of drugs and palliative care to alleviate her suffering.
Taylor was diagnosed with ALS in 2009, a degenerative disease also known popularly as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. In January 2010, she was told she would likely be paralyzed in six months and die within the year. She has fared better than predicted and her condition plateaued over the last year. But recently in the last few weeks, her condition has again deteriorated and she now largely uses a wheelchair and requires a feeding tube.
Taylor’s case bears similarities to the landmark case of Sue Rodriguez, a Victoria woman who also had ALS and sought a physician-assisted suicide. Rodriguez’ case, which went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, led to the 1993 5-4 decision that ruled assisted suicide a criminal offence.