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View Full Version : Woman Who Helped Mom Die in Europe Sues to Legalize Assisted Dying in Canada



Ælfrun
Wednesday, April 27th, 2011, 07:07 AM
VANCOUVER - The daughter of a terminally ill British Columbia woman who escorted her mother to Switzerland to die with the help of a doctor is reopening the assisted suicide debate in this country.

Lee Carter filed a suit in B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday, launching what's believed to be the first constitutional challenge since Sue Rodriguez lost her battle on the issue in Canada's highest court in 1993.

Rodriguez was a Victoria mother suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis — more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease — who sought to have federal laws criminalizing assisted death struck down.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is funding the new suit, which Carter said would have "thrilled" her 89-year-old mother Kathleen.

"It was what she wanted, so this would be supporting her dream and honouring her vision," she said in an interview, adding she believes the choice to die with dignity is something that should be available to all Canadians.

The association is named as a plaintiff in the suit, along with Carter's husband and a Victoria doctor who says he's willing to participate in physician-assisted dying if the laws were to be repealed.

Suicide is legal in Canada, but it is illegal to counsel, aid or abet another person in the act.

The lawsuit describes in detail how Carter and her husband helped make the distressing arrangements required for the elderly woman to terminate her life after the woman told them of her "firm conclusion."

Kathleen Carter was suffering from degenerative spinal stenosis, which caused her chronic pain. She had been told by her neurologist that her condition would eventually reduce her to lying flat in bed, completely immobile.

After expressing fears she'd be left trapped in her own body, her seven children all signed a letter of support required by the Swiss clinic where she drank a glass of sodium pentobarbital to kill herself.

Afterwards, her daughter mailed a farewell letter to 125 friends and family dictated by her mother explaining the medical consultations and other legal conditions she followed to do so under the European country's laws.

It stated that "she alone had made the choice to end her life, and that her trip to Switzerland was filled with laughter and fond reminiscences."`

Another B.C. organization, the Farewell Foundation, launched a suit last week challenging Canada's laws on assisted suicide. The group has said it would offer help to terminally ill people from its physician members.

In the 1993 ruling on the Rodriguez case, the Supreme Court of Canada concluded the law against assisted suicides does impinge on the right to liberty and security of the person, but it doesn't subject anyone to cruel and unusual punishment. Any discrimination against disabled people unable to commit suicide is justified, said the ruling.

Ultimately, the high court said, the matter should be decided by Parliament.

But Chris Considine, the Victoria lawyer who argued on behalf of Rodriguez, said Tuesday parliament never acted.

He said the fundamentals of the Carter case don't differ widely from the Rodriguez case.

But changing social attitudes, along with evidence that deliberate protocols to facilitate physician-assisted dying "appear to be successful" elsewhere in the world, making for a stronger case today, Considine said.

"It may be timely for the Supreme Court of Canada to reevaluate the matter," he said, recalling nationwide interest in the case that ended in a narrow 5-4 split decision.

"If so then I think that's a welcome thing for all Canadians to know where they stand when they have to deal with these issues later in life."

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition based in London, Ont., said he's read studies disputing that legalization of medically-assisted suicide in Europe has worked smoothly.

He argues keeping the criminal provisions in place ensures vulnerable people are protected.

"The bigger question is — when someone is asking to die — the question is 'Why?' What can we do as a society to enable that person to live out their life with dignity?" he said.

Grace Pastine, litigation director for the association, said Kathleen Carter's experience, and a host of other similarly heartwrenching personal stories told by people with incurable illnesses, will form the foundation of the case.

"It's important the court hear from many different Canadians who are seeking a choice in dying," she said.

A variety of experts from the several states and countries that have legalized assisted suicide will also testify that allowing medically-assisted dying prevents suffering and upholds human rights, Pastine said.

That could include doctors from any of Washington, Oregan or Montana, as well as Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Set to argue the case is well-known constitutional lawyer Joseph Arvay. He'll contend the law removes a person's right to make decisions about their body and also restricts physicians' freedom to administer compassionate end of life care.

"Death and the way we die are very much a part of life ... and the way we die is really part of our right to self-determination and entitlement to human dignity under the law," Pastine said.

The defendant, Canada's Attorney General, has 21 days to file its reply to the suit.



http://ca.news.yahoo.com/woman-helped-mom-die-europe-sues-legalize-assisted-182614282.html