Canadians with Disabilities Feel Threatened by SCC Decision to Allow Appeal on Assisted Suicide

16 January 2014

Anxiety in the disability community has been heightened by the Supreme Court of Canada decision to allow an appeal of the British Columbia Court of Appeal (BCCA) ruling in Carter v. Canada (assisted suicide).  "The ongoing efforts to achieve assisted suicide by any means are escalating the level of anxiety experienced by people with disabilities.  Imagine the emotional toll it takes on people with disabilities who keep hearing from assisted suicide campaigners that people who experience problems with toileting, feeding and other activities of daily living should have help to die," states Tony Dolan, CCD Chairperson.

“I have an excellent job, four university degrees and I am very happily married. Yet, every time this issue emerges, as a disabled person I feel vulnerable. It is as if we have to continually justify our existence,” states Nancy Hansen, a member of CCD's Ending of Life Ethics Committee.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) and the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL), two of Canada’s largest organizations representing persons with disabilities and their families, had hoped the appeal would be denied.  "Circumstances in Canada have not changed so much in the intervening years since the Rodriguez decision to require this issue to be revisited by the SCC," states Dolan. ”If anything, the justification is weaker because of improvements in palliative care”.

"Moreover on 21 April 2010, Parliament opposed by a vote of 228 to 59 a bill to legalize assisted suicide. Our legislators, who are close to grassroots Canadians, got the threat that assisted suicide poses to the elderly and people with disabilities and said no to assisted suicide.  It is our view that the existing Supreme Court precedent Rodriguez and 2010 Parliamentary decision reflect how the law should stand on this issue."

In documents filed with the SCC, CCD and CACL urged the SCC to refuse leave to appeal Carter. CCD and CACL expressed concern about the inadequacy of the evidentiary record, because the BC Supreme Court did not have the benefit of hearing sufficiently from experts who had considered the perils posed to people with disabilities by legalized assisted suicide.  By default, the burden now has fallen to people with disabilities and their organizations to ensure that the SCC is sufficiently informed about the dangers inherent in legalized assisted suicide for people with disabilities and seniors.  In the coming weeks, CCD and CACL will adduce how best to achieve this goal.

CACL and CCD are engaging in the legal proceedings in the Carter case in an effort to uphold the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in Rodriguez.  The Supreme Court of Canada in the Rodriguez case got our message.  They were entirely focused on the threat to persons with disabilities and thus denied Sue Rodriguez’s request for assistance to end her life.

"CACL and CCD take hope from the Irish Supreme Court, which in Fleming v. Ireland refused to legalize assisted suicide in 2013.  In the Fleming case, the Irish Court considered the evidence upon which Justice Smith based her ruling but had the additional crucial evidence that was not available to her,” states Dolan. They reached the exact opposite conclusion, holding that the concerns of the disabled community about the dangers posed by legalizing assisted suicide are well founded.  "We are hopeful that the SCC's final word on the Carter case will echo the Irish Court 's conclusion that " [114.] the values of autonomy and dignity and more importantly the rights in which they find expression, do not extend to a right of assisted suicide."


To arrange an interview with CCD representatives contact Laurie Beachell at 204-981-6179 or 204-947-0303 or

Amy Hasbrouck (Toujours Vivant/Not Dead Yet, a project of CCD) 450-921-3057 or

David Baker, Legal Counsel 416 533-0040 Ext 222.