British Columbia’s Civil Liberties Association Files Lawsuit Challenging Laws Against Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

While Quebec is consulting and holding public hearings on euthanasia and assisted suicide, on April 26, 2011, British Columbia’s Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and three other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in BC’s Supreme Court challenging Canada’s Criminal Code provisions against euthanasia and assisted suicide. According to the statement of claim, Section 241 of the Criminal Code, which makes it illegal to (a) counsel, or (b) aid or abet, a person to commit suicide, is unconstitutional because it denies individuals the right to have control over choices that are fundamental to their physical, emotional and psychological dignity and restricts the liberty of physicians to deliver compassionate end of life care to incurably ill patients.

Moreover, although the act of suicide was decriminalized in Canada in 1972, those who are unable to end their own life because of a disability or inability are not able to exercise this option. Within the challenge, the BCCLA is seeking to give seriously and incurably ill, mentally competent adults the right to receive medical assistance to hasten death under certain specific safeguards. The BCCLA believes that every Canadian should have the choice to have what they consider to be a good death, including the option of a medically assisted death for seriously and incurably ill, mentally competent adults. Without a change in the law, seriously ill individuals will continue to suffer against their wishes at the end of life, without the choice and dignity that they deserve.

In my previous post on the topic, in the context of the current debate in Quebec, I discussed at length the meaning of euthanasia, assisted suicide, what other countries are doing, the law and the ongoing debate and court rulings. Have a read if you want to understand the issues at play.

I am very torn on this issue. For many people this is a painful and personal topic.

When my father lay dying from cancer in a Montreal hospital, on several nights, we agonizingly discussed his need to end it all because he could no longer handle the pain and inability to care for himself. My very proud father was giving up. Whether it was the right choice or not, in the end, he chose to hang on and let nature take its course, and I was relieved. Relieved that I did not have to help him take his own life or face the possibility of a criminal conviction, although it killed me to see him in pain each and every day, gasping until he took his last breath. Although my faith also played a part in my hesitation, the threat of criminal conviction alone was enough to dissuade me from aiding and abetting a suicide.

Eleven years later, I am caring for my mother who was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer but with a better prognosis and a strong will to live. But when she told me about the diagnosis, those nights in the Montreal hospital came back and a moment of despair came over me.

My generation, the sandwich generation, is faced with caring for aging parents as well as children while balancing work responsibilities and our own needs. And, according to several reports, most of us will be faced with giving end of life care at home. However, am I ready this time to face the possibility of aiding and abetting a suicide (even if it’s legal)?

This challenge is expected to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, and I am sure it will. There is a call for more clarity from the courts and the government that a relative who helps a mentally competent, terminally ill person to die in dignity will not be committing a criminal offence, or that they will have a statutory defence.

Clarity is also needed to make sure whatever rules govern our society fit the realities of the 21st century. These realities include the demand for greater individual choice in personal matters alongside increasing pressure on our healthcare system. It may sounds harsh to say it’s too expensive to keep people alive, therefore we should allow them to commit suicide, but if that is an argument that will open up the challenging debate on euthanasia, then so be it.

Certainly, we shouldn’t avoid the discussion. It will force us to confront our deep reliance on and expectations of technology, and possibly look to more sensitive and considered answers elsewhere.


  1. wilfred harry loree

    I am 83 yrs. old with C.O.P.D. (I have smoked for about 65 yrs.) I am a widower living alone and am just able to still look after myself. When I can no longer do so or when my little savings run out, which ever comes first, I am prepared to end my life but I would rather it was helped and supervised by a doctor. I am in full suppor of the right to die.
    Wilf Loree

  2. There are so many aspects for consideration. Criteria would need to be very narrow and very specific to those suffering a state of acute terminal illness, and hopefully not an acute state hastened by lack of quality social, mental and physical health care.

    Distinctions would have to be very clear.

    Hopefully, whatever guiding legislation occurs, there will also be safeguards against “slipping in” the termination of one’s own life due to lack of funds, or the depression and despair brought on by poverty, lack of social and psychological support, or dismissive (thus inadequate) medical care and insensitivity that too easily accompanies the aged.