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Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) in Canada

Part 4 of thirteen parts

Carter v. Canada lawsuit was appealed
to the British Columbia Court of Appeal

2013-MAR: Hearings were held.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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2012-JUL-13: The case Carter v. Canada was appealed to a higher court: the British Columbia Court of Appeal:

On 2012-JUN-25, the British Columbia Supreme Court had ruled in favor of assisted suicide. The ruling stated in part:

"... the law does not prohibit suicide. However, persons who are physically disabled such that they cannot commit suicide without help are denied that option, because s. 241(b) [of the Criminal Code of Canada] prohibits assisted suicide. The provisions regarding assisted suicide have a more burdensome effect on persons with physical disabilities than on able-bodied persons, and thereby create, in effect, a distinction based on physical disability. The impact of the distinction is felt particularly acutely by persons such as [a plaintiff in the case] Ms. Taylor, who are grievously and irremediably ill, physically disabled or soon to become so, mentally competent, and who wish to have some control over their circumstances at the end of their lives. The distinction is discriminatory, under the test explained by the Supreme Court of Canada in Withler, because it perpetuates disadvantage." 1,2

Anticipating an appeal, the court placed a stay on their ruling. As expected, the Canadian Government appealed the lower court ruling to a three-judge panel of the British Columbia Court of Appeal. This is the highest court in the province.

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2013-MAR-18 to 22: A one week-long hearing begins at the British Columbia Court of Appeal:

The appeal of the British Columbia Supreme Court's ruling in Carter v. Canada was heard by a panel of three judges in the BC Court of Appeal. They were: The Honourable Chief Justice Finch, The Honourable Madam Justice Newbury, and The Honourable Madam Justice Saunders.

At the time of the hearing, a webcast pilot project at the BC Court of Appeal was active. The video archive can be accessed over the Internet. 3 See: 2013-MAR-18, MAR 19, MAR 20, MAR 21, MAR 22. The broadcast used the Flash Media Player and may not be viewable on all devices.

Donnaree Nygard who works as Senior General Counsel for Justice Canada represented the Government of Canada.

Five of the original six intervenors who were present before the BC Supreme Court supplied factums (written arguments). They can be read on the Court's web site via the following links. 3

Added to the list of intervenors with factums were groups that were not involved at the British Columbia Supreme Court trial:

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2013-MAR-18: Some very brief excerpts from testimony during the hearing in favor of an absolute prohibition of assisted suicide:

A full legal commentary is available online for the first two days of the hearing. 5 The following are very short excerpts extracted from that the first day of that commentary. We recommend reading the full documentation of both days of the hearing, viewing the video recordings of all five days, and reading the factums in full 5 if you wish to obtain a full and balanced understanding of the testimonies. The following information was taken from the first day of the hearing.

  • The federal government lawyer, Ms. Donnaree Nygard cited her "... concerns for risking the lives of individuals in vulnerable situations."

    She said that anyone facing a devastating illness or injury is potentially vulnerable:

    • to the impossibility of imagining their ability to cope with a new reality,
    • to the devaluing of their lives by those around them as a result of prejudice within our society to those who live with disabilities,
    • to feelings as if life is not worth living due to increased restrictions as a result of aging, perhaps in combination with financial or emotional abuse,
    • to support in seeking assisted suicide, when what they really desire is support to live,
    • to the message that, unlike the rest of society, they are actively dissuaded, and, if possible, physically prevented from committing suicide ...,
    • or simply vulnerable as a result of feeling that their continued care is unfair burden to their families or to society.

Later during the appeal, she said that people who are terminally ill and considering assisted suicide are simply scared of suffering. If they continue living, they would be still able to find enjoyment in life. 4

Her closing summary, as reported by the Court, made the point that:

"... Parliament is required to strike a balance between the interests of those who want control of the circumstances of their death, and those at risk of dying unwanted deaths if the absolute prohibition is lifted.  Given the nature of the interests at stake, Parliament was entitled to legislate on the basis of a reasonable apprehension of harm."

  • Hugh Scher, representing the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition repeated three main points from his factum: that:
    • Personal autonomy would be reduced if assisted suicide were legalized.
    • Prohibiting assisted suicide is protective, not discriminatory.
    • There is no real evidence that safeguards to prevent abuse are adequate.

  • Gerald Chipeur, representing the Christian Legal Fellowship made a number of points:
    • Most people work out their end of life issues satisfactorily without access to assisted suicide.
    • Regulations involving assisted suicide might disrupt this process.
    • He referred to abusive coercion involved in past state-mandated sterilization of the mentally handicapped in Alberta and suggested that this might be repeated across Canada if assisted suicide became available.

  • Geoffrey Trotter, representing the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, asserted that human life is a sacred trust rather than a mere right to be contracted away or waived. His presentation appeared to concentrate more on euthanasia, where an individual is killed by someone else, than on assisted suicide where an individual kills themselves with help that the person obtains from someone else.

  • David Baker represented both the Council of Canadian with Disabilities (CCD) and the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL). The CCD once supported assisted suicide but has since reversed their position. Both groups feel that disabled people are at risk if assisted suicide became legalized. He warned that real harm would result if "therapeutic death" becomes available to disabled people.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.  
  1. "Carter v. Canada (Attorney General)," "I SUMMARY," Pages 7 to 9, Supreme Court of British Columbia, 2012-JUN-15, at:
  2. "Case Summary - Withler v. Canada," CanLII Connects, undated, at:
  3. "Factums: Carter et al v. Attorney General of Canada, The Courts of British Columbia, undated, at:
  4. "Terminally ill just scared of suffering, federal lawyer argues," CBC News, 2013-MAR-19, at:
  5. "Legal Commentary from Carter v. Canada," British Columbia Court of Appeal, 2012-MAR-18 & 19, at:

Site navigation: Home page > "Hot" topics  > Assisted Suicide > Canada > here

or: Home page > "Hot" topics  > Suicide menu > Assisted Suicide> Canada > here

Copyright © 2016, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2016-FEB-27
Latest update: 2016-FEB-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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