Canadian provincial court upholds law against assisted suicide

Mon Oct 14, 2013 5:12pm EDT
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By Julie Gordon

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The top court in British Columbia upheld Canada's law against assisted suicide on Thursday, in a split decision that will likely set up a Supreme Court battle over the right to die.

The decision in the provincial Court of Appeal follows a controversial lower court ruling that struck down a Canadian law making euthanasia illegal and allowed physician-assisted suicide in certain cases under strict conditions.

Canada's federal government appealed that ruling, arguing that legalizing assisted suicide would diminish the value of life and potentially put vulnerable people at risk.

The federal ban on assisted suicide was upheld by two justices, with one dissenting.

"The societal consequences of permitting physician-assisted suicide in Canada - and indeed enshrining it as a constitutional right - are a matter of serious concern to many Canadians, and, as is shown by the evidence reviewed by the trial judge in this case, no consensus on the subject is apparent, even among ethicists or medical practitioners," said Madam Justices Mary Newbury and Mary Saunders in their judgment.

At the heart of the case was Gloria Taylor, an Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) patient and activist, who joined the right to die lawsuit in 2011. Taylor died of her illness in 2012.

The family of second woman, Kay Carter, who traveled to Switzerland more than three years ago to end her life, were also plaintiffs. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, along with a handful of other European jurisdictions and a few U.S. states.

Canada's Supreme Court last considered assisted suicide two decades ago with the case of Sue Rodriguez, who also suffered ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.   Continued...