Views of Disability Community on Assisted Suicide to Get Hearing


Toronto and Ottawa

July 18, 2015

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) and the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) are pleased that the federal Ministers of Justice and Health have appointed a panel to hear from Canadians about how to respond to the Supreme Court of Canada’s Carter judgment striking down the total ban on assisted suicide. 

CCD and CACL intervened in the case to state our concerns and evidence about the risks of legalizing assisted suicide.  We are concerned this practice will further entrench stigma and social exclusion of people with disabilities and those with long-term health conditions.  A decision to authorize interventions to proactively bring about the death of people with ‘disability, illness or disease’ in the words of the court, poses fundamental ethical and legal questions.

Canadians should be very wary of equating decisions for physician-assisted death with their daily health care decisions.  Authorizing physician assistance to proactively bring about the death of another person is a very different step than intervening to help a person heal, rehabilitate or manage and remediate physical or psychological pain and suffering.  Legalizing assisted suicide has profound implications for the health profession, families, caregivers and community members, all of whom must make sense of what it means to take pro-active steps that will result in another’s death.  Codes of practice and a cultural environment conducive for this purpose will need establishing.  This prospect we find deeply concerning, one which we believe justifies strict safeguards in order to protect vulnerable persons.

We believe any such authorization must involve external oversight and approval, as it will have enormous public consequences for defining what will count as a life worth living and deserving of the highest quality health and social support.  We will continue to affirm that as private a matter as death may be, its authorization under such circumstances must be one that is considered a community decision, exercised by a publicly appointed and accountable review board empowered for this purpose; and able only to authorize physician-assisted death after serious consideration of alternative courses of action, a standard element of informed consent protocols.

CCD and CACL are pleased that the Government of Canada will be soliciting the views of interveners in the Carter case and respect the decision to appoint a panel of experts in law and ethics to consider options. We will bring forward to the panel proposed principles and guidelines for a safeguarding system and hope that our views and concerns will be given a fair hearing in this most important of policy decisions.

Media contacts: Council of Canadians with Disabilities – Dean Richert, 204-951-6273
Canadian Association for Community Living – Michael Bach at 416-209-7942