November 21, 2011

Vancouver – The effort to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide that was lost in Parliament in 2010, moved to the courts Nov. 14, but pro-life forces are fighting back.

On Nov. 14, in Vancouver, the B.C. Supreme Court began hearing arguments in Carter vs. Attorney General of Canada, that challenges Canada's laws against assisted suicide and euthanasia.

The Carter case, brought by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association on behalf of Lee Carter and four others, seeks to have assisted suicide treated as a medical instead of criminal issue.

"Canada's 'right-to-die' lobby is currently attempting to bypass the political process by going to the courts," said Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) director Michele Boulva.

Boulva made her comment in a Nov. 9 letter to Alex Schadenberg, head of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC).


The EPC and EPC-BC have intervener status in the case and will argue against decriminalizing assisted suicide.

The EPC also has a petition urging the attorney general to take whatever measures he can to prevent the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada.

The coalition's legal counsel Hugh Scher said that in its intervention the group will raise concerns about the safety and equality of seniors and people with disabilities.

It will also make ethical arguments and address the consequences that legalized euthanasia would have for the doctor-patient relationship, Scher said in a statement.

"I see elder abuse in my practice, often perpetrated by family members and caregivers," EPC-BC chair Dr. Will Johnston, a family doctor, said in a statement. "A desire for money or an inheritance is typical."

"Under current law, abusers take their victims to the bank and to the lawyer for a new will," he said. "With legal assisted suicide, the next stop would be the doctor's office for a lethal prescription. How are we going to detect victimization when we can't do it now?"

A case has also been filed in Trois Rivières, Quebec, by Ginette Leblanc who has ALS, the same disease that prompted Sue Rodriguez to take her battle for a legal assisted suicide to the Supreme Court of Canada 20 years ago.

After losing the case in a 5-4 split decision, Rodriguez found someone to help her end her life. No one has ever been charged in her death.

Schadenberg said the Leblanc case could go ahead in December, but the Leblanc and Carter cases may join if one of them goes to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The EPC warns that should Carter win, even a family member could administer a lethal dose to a relative at home.

The coalition warns the Carter case would not only legalize assisted suicide, but also euthanasia, while the LeBlanc case, which is more similar to Rodriguez's, would only affect the law against assisted suicide.

Schadenberg pointed to the story of John Coppard, 45, a veteran of Afghanistan and Bosnia, who said he might have killed himself two years ago when he received a diagnosis of an aggressive brain cancer if assisted suicide had been legal at the time.

On his blog, Schadenberg reported Coppard "became depressed when he realized his career was over, he'd probably never be a father or a grandfather, and his chance of surviving even five years was just 20 per cent."


But a new therapy has put his cancer in remission and the Victoria resident recently bought a sailboat.

"For those of us living with life threatening conditions, the system as it is offers us incredible hope," Coppard told Schadenberg.

"New therapies are discovered all the time. Everyone knows someone who was offered a terrible prognosis that turned out to be wrong."

Coppard also expressed concern about how legalizing assisted suicide would affect the trust relationship patients have with their physicians.

"In my case I trust them completely. If assisted suicide is on the table, however, who will I be able to trust?"

"I don't want any heroics. I'll go when it's time for me to go. But not when my medical system thinks it's too expensive to keep me alive, or when my doctor thinks I'm too much work."