What's At Stake in Friday's Supreme Court Decision on Assisted Suicide

Toronto and Winnipeg: February 4, 2015

Whatever decision the Supreme Court of Canada makes in the Carter vs. Canada ruling to be released on Friday – to hold the line against assisted suicide in the Criminal Code, or to strike it down - the public standards of what it means to live a dignified life are at stake.  At the core is a question about what it means to live a meaningful life until the end – and in our Canadian society, a decision from the court cannot reflect the complexity of these choices in anyone’s individual life.

If the Court strikes down the prohibition against assisted suicide, the fears of some will be assuaged by the knowledge that, at a time of their choosing, they may seek state-sanctioned intervention to cause their death.  But for a growing group of Canadians whose daily lives fundamentally depend on the personal care and support of others, their fears are only heightened by such an outcome. 

What is the basis for this fear?  For those who receive care, for those who provide care, and for those who advocate for equality and inclusion alongside a wide variety of Canadians, the risk is palpable.  Dependence upon others will come to be seen as a suffering too great to bear.  The risk is that in private conversations, in policy choices and in adjudicated determinations, dependence will come to be equated with indignity when actually it is an essential part of living.  And the larger fear is that the shape of such a life will become a good reason to seek its termination. 

The risk of this cultural slide may well present possibly the biggest challenge to Canadian values in our generation, the underlying value of an individual life. 

There are a series of more complex issues underlying any decision of the court. CCD and CACL intervened at the Court in October and said:

“Nobody in Canada needs to be left to face death in pain, nor should they have to feel that their lives are a burden for others.”

“Canadians experience a significant unmet need for palliative care.”

“To redraw the boundary in law of what constitutes living with dignity undermines the dignity of Canadians with disabilities who live good, albeit challenging lives.”

“In jurisdictions where assisted suicide/euthanasia is legal the leading reasons given for dying are not pain related, but rather “losing dignity and autonomy” and “becoming burdensome for family and friends.”  To endorse these as valid reasons to die can only reinforce and entrench fear of disability and prejudice about the value of disabled people’s lives.”

“We are concerned that countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands see nothing wrong with euthanizing children and people with mental disabilities.”  In fact, the average annual growth in the number of assisted suicide deaths from the first complete year for which data is available is 48% for Belgium and 64% for the Netherlands.

Rather than provide access to assisted suicide, CCD and CACL have urged governments to adopt a policy of respect for individual lives, particularly at the end of life, and universal access to palliative care to ensure all people can get the care and support they and their families and loved ones need. 

Respect for diversity and inclusion must continue to stand among Canada's most cherished values.  Whatever the outcome of Friday’s ruling, we urge all Canadians and our legislators to listen to the voices of those who have historically been disadvantaged and marginalized and ensure they can participate in the coming public debates and political decisions.  Such important societal values should be debated fully and with fair consideration of the complex decisions that face individual Canadians at the end of their lives.


For the CCD/CACL Factum to the Supreme Court of Canada see http://ccdonline.ca/media/humanrights/carter-factum-ccd-cacl-14-08-28.pdf

CCD and CACL representatives will be available for comment following the Supreme Court decision Friday:

Jim Derksen CCD Ending of Life Ethics Committee 204 781-4187
Catherine Frazee CACL 902 818-2812 (for her Op-Eds on this topic see http://fragileandwild.com/supplementals/end-of-life/)
Dean Richert  Chair CCD Ending of Life Ethics Committee  204 951-6273
Amy Hasbrouck  Not Dead Yet Canada (bilingual) 450-370-8195
Laurie Larson, President, CACL Ph: 306-948-7341
Michael Bach –Executive Vice President CACL  Ph:  416 209-7942
Laurie Beachell  National Coordinator CCD  Ph. 204  981-6179
Carmela Hutchison  Disabled Womens’ Network  403 935-4218
Nancy Hansen CCD Ending of Life Ethics Committee 204 474-6458
Heidi Janz CCD Ending of Life Ethics Committee 780-431-2061  email  hjanz@ualberta.ca
Tony Dolan Chair of CCD  902 626-1752