Elderly, handicapped at risk – Canada's bishops

Archbishop Richard Smith

Archbishop Richard Smith

June 25, 2012

OTTAWA – Canada's bishops have expressed dismay over a B.C. Supreme Court decision June 15 to strike down Canadian Criminal Code provisions against euthanasia and assisted suicide.

"Do we show concern for the sick, the elderly, the handicapped and vulnerable by encouraging them to commit suicide or through deliberating killing them by euthanasia?" asked Archbishop Richard Smith, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Or, instead, do we fashion a culture of life and love in which each person, at every moment and in all circumstances of their natural lifespan, is treasured as a gift?"

In a June 18 statement, Smith said that as stewards of life, each person is required "to respond to the physical, emotional and moral sufferings of people of all ages, particularly those seriously ill or handicapped."

Likewise, Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller urged the government to appeal "this extremely flawed and dangerous ruling."

Justice Lynn Smith struck down the anti-assisted suicide and euthanasia provisions of the Criminal Code as unconstitutional. In a 395-page decision, Smith said the laws violate the protections of life, liberty and security under section 7 of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


She also wrote the law violates the Charter's equality provisions in section 15, since it is legal to commit suicide, but the key plaintiff in the case, Gloria Taylor, 64, has Lou Gehrig's Disease or ALS, and could not commit suicide without assistance.

The government has until July 16 to file a notice of appeal.

"We are currently reviewing the court's 395-page decision," said Julie Di Mambro, press secretary to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.

"This is an emotional and divisive issue for many Canadians. Parliament voted as recently as April 2010 not to change these laws," she said in an email.

Di Mambro noted the court "suspended the operation of its declaration for a one-year period" thus giving Parliament a chance to revisit the legislation.

Miller said the decision "reflects a distorted view of equality rights that emphasizes autonomy over human dignity and the value of life."


"True liberty means the freedom to live one's life secure in the knowledge that those who care for us are dedicated to the service of life, not the taking of life," Miller said.

"We have been down this road many times around the world, and all the safeguards initially put in place wind up either disregarded or eventually dispensed with."

"The result is euthanasia harms not only those whose lives are taken, but those responsible for taking them," he said.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) also called for the decision to be appealed.

EPC executive director Alex Schadenberg said. "Today's court decision is fundamentally at odds with the will of Parliament as expressed just months ago," he said.


Bradley Miller, of Miller Thomson LLP who assisted CLF in the case, said the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide is primarily a moral, not a legal, one. "This is too important a matter to be left to a single judge, or even a panel of judges," Miller said.

"This is a matter for broad public consultation and parliamentary resolution. Decisions of life and death that affect all Canadians deserve measured analysis by our community, by our learned experts and by our elected representatives."