No ‘right answer’ on assisted suicide
VANCOUVER—Canadians who want control over how they die should not take priority over vulnerable people whose lives could be hastily snuffed if the courts uphold a legal decision permitting doctor-assisted suicide, a federal government lawyer argued before British Columbia’s highest court.
Donnaree Nygard set out the errors the government contends were made by a trial judge as the review of a landmark decision that effectively gave people the right to die began yesterday in the B.C. Court of Appeal.
“And on each occasion has come to the conclusion that the need to protect individuals in vulnerable circumstances outweighs the interests of those who seek assisted suicide,” she said.
The case initially was brought to the courts by the daughter of an ailing 89-year-old Canadian woman who accompanied her mother to Switzerland in 2010 so the senior legally could end her life.
Since then, several plaintiffs have joined the case, including Gloria Taylor, a terminally-ill 63-year-old woman who was suffering from a neurodegenerative disease with no known cure or effective treatment.
Taylor was granted a constitutional exemption to seek help killing herself last June after the B.C. court struck down the ban and ordered the federal government to rewrite its law banning assisted suicide.
Taylor, from Kelowna, B.C., died in October of an infection and didn’t take advantage of her exemption.
Nygard told court that because the emotionally-charged debate has multiple sides, there also is a range of possible courses of action from which Parliament may choose—each with different risks and benefits.
“The trial judge erred in addressing the case as if she were tasked with deciding what the right answer was, rather than deciding if the Parliament had struck a reasonable and appropriate balance,” she said.
Nygard noted a number of governments for Western democracies have had the same debate, and the “vast majority” came to the same conclusion that protecting life must be held paramount.
The exceptions are Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg, as well as Oregon and Washington states, Nygard said.
Similar legislation has been rejected in 24 U.S. state legislatures since 1991.
The Scottish Parliament and Australia also have tried making cases for legalization of assisted suicide, but were unsuccessful.
Nygard said the government further takes issue with specific conclusions of the trial judge, who said the law must allow physician-assisted suicide in cases involving patients who are diagnosed with a serious illness or disability—and who are experiencing “intolerable” physical or psychological suffering with no chance of improvement.
“This order is broader than anything that exists anywhere else,” Nygard said.
“What is required is an absolute ban.”