SCC Decision Disappoints


Friday, January 15th, 2016

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) was disappointed by today's Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) decision in the Carter case, because the SCC granted a four, as opposed to the requested six, month extension for Parliament to develop a system for physician-assisted suicide and the SCC granted an exemption from the extension to Quebec, where an assisted suicide law came into force on December 10, 2015.  Parliament needs the additional time to develop protections in the Criminal Code that will ensure vulnerable persons will not be at significant risk of abuse and error in the coming system for physician-assisted suicide.  Due to the exemption granted to Quebec, vulnerable people at end-of-life in that province, unlike other Canadians, will not have the benefit of the safeguard of having their request reviewed by the superior court of their jurisdiction, which will evaluate the request based upon the criteria the SCC set out in Carter.  Instead, decisions to end lives will be made behind closed doors, without external independent scrutiny.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) and the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and their legal counsel attended the Court's hearing on Monday in support of the federal government's request to extend the February 6th  deadline for having a system in place.  For CCD and CACL an extension was essential, especially given that the report of the federal External Panel mandated to consider safeguards has not yet been released; and because the 'Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying' rejected proposals for robust safeguards.

In its decision in Carter, the Supreme Court of Canada called for safeguards that would balance access and autonomy with protecting people who are vulnerable to being induced to commit suicide. The Court determined that a safeguards system that imposed "stringent limits that are scrupulously monitored and enforced" was needed for these equally important goals.  Yet, proposals for mandatory vulnerability assessment and advance independent review were rejected by the provincial/territorial Advisory Group.  This, despite clear evidence of coercion, inducement and abuse of vulnerable persons in systems for physician-assisted suicide in other jurisdictions.  Moreover, the Advisory Group did not recognize that physicians will be conflicted in their role to diagnose and address causes of suffering, while also authorizing an intervention intended to cause death.

CCD and CACL believe that safeguards must include: 1) mandatory vulnerable assessments; and 2) a timely prior review and authorization by an independent panel or body.  This check and balance would ensure that the decision is completely voluntary and that a person is not vulnerable to misinformation, abuse or coercion.  It would also protect physicians - as a whole - from compromising their trusted role in health care; an irrevocable consequence of being positioned to authorize interventions intended to cause death. CCD and CACL also support the right of every Canadian to palliative care, an important component in the issue of safeguards.

Today's decision was not unanimous, showing the serious and difficult nature of the questions being addressed. 


Media Contacts

James Hicks,
National Coordinator
Council of Canadians with Disabilities

Dean Richert
Co-chair, Ending of Life Ethics Committee
Council of Canadians with Disabilities