Alex Schadenberg

Alex Schadenberg

January 25, 2016

OTTAWA - Euthanasia opponents are disappointed with the Jan. 15 Supreme Court of Canada decision giving Ottawa only four of the six extra months it had sought to craft an assisted dying law.

Groups expressed particular concern over the court's granting Quebec an exemption from the Criminal Code provisions against euthanasia and assisted suicide so it can proceed with its euthanasia law. Those provisions remain in effect elsewhere in the country until the deadline, now set at June 6.

However, the court also granted exemptions for individuals across Canada who could apply to a superior court judge to receive assistance in committing suicide.

Quebec announced its first patient death from a doctor-administered lethal injection the same day as the court decision.

While the nine Supreme Court justices were unanimous in granting the four-month extension, they were sharply divided on the 5-4 majority's decision to grant the Quebec and individual exemptions.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) executive director Alex Schadenberg said the court has, in effect, "legalized" euthanasia and assisted suicide.

It has done so "without any definition on how a superior court judge can make decisions to allow people to die by lethal injections or lethal doses," Schadenberg said.

"This gives the judges no parameters. It is wide open to the decision of the judge on how he or she feels that day."

Schadenberg also opposed the Quebec exemption. The EPC has argued Criminal Code provisions should be uniform across the country.

Catholic Civil Rights League president Phil Horgan said the Quebec and individual exemptions amount to "legislative pronouncements" on the part of the Supreme Court.

They may signal "a form of law that Parliament should enact going forward," he said.

"The political situation is still unprepared to deal with it," Horgan said. The report of an independent external panel headed by experts has not been released to the public.

The MPs and senators of the parliamentary joint-committee on physician-assisted dying were only recently appointed and met for the first time Jan. 18.

The Supreme Court is "creating a new regime of their own making," in devising the "judicial application procedure," Horgan said. "Where was that in the Criminal Code? Where was that in the original Carter decision?

"It's a trenchant example of how laws in our country are increasingly being made by five lawyers on the Supreme Court of Canada."

Michele Boulva, executive director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, said the decision did not surprise her.

"We have known for a while that the ideology of death has made very deep inroads into Canadian culture," Boulva said. "We now need to support physicians and all health care workers fighting for the respect of their charter right to conscientious objection."

The court's five-justice majority said it granted the Quebec exemption because the federal attorney general did not oppose it. The justices said their doing so "should not be taken as expressing any view as to the validity" of Quebec's medical aid-in-dying act.


The majority also said individual exemptions should be granted so as to not "prolong the suffering" of those who met the criteria they set in the Carter decision - "adults who have a grievous, intolerable and irremediable medical condition."

John Sikkema, associate counsel for the Christian Legal Fellowship, said less than a year ago the Supreme Court maintained "a complex regulatory regime" was needed to minimize error and abuse. It gave Parliament a year to create one.

Now, the Supreme Court is "prepared to permit assisted suicide in the absence of such a regime, and without clear guidance to assist lower courts in deciding individual exemption applications," Sikkema said.


For COLF's Boulva, legislation will not solve the problem.

"For Catholics and for all people of good will, it is now obvious that the building of a new culture of life will take generations," she said.

"It all begins now with a twofold decision: first, the decision to give formation, to educate our families, friends and parishioners regarding the truth about human life and dignity inscribed in our souls by our Creator.

"And secondly, the decision to render these lethal practices irrelevant by being truly compassionate and caring for our brothers and sisters confronted with the challenges of illness until their natural death."