Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Carter vs Canada - appeal to be heard mid-March

The Canadian Government will shortly appeal the decision by Justice Lynn Smith (known as the Carter Case).
"On June 15, 2012, Justice Lynn Smith decided, in the Carter case, that the law protecting Canadians from assisted suicide was unconstitutional because it deprived some people with disabilities equal access to suicide. Justice Smith also ordered parliament to legalize a limited form of euthanasia and she gave Gloria Taylor, one of the plaintiffs, a constitutional exemption to die by euthanasia or assisted suicide." said Alex Schadenberg. 

Gloria Taylor died from natural causes on October 5, 2012.

The basis of the appeal (The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has been granted Intervenor Status) is that Justice Smith erred in her judgement in assessing that there was a 'right to suicide' implicit in Canadian law.

It's an argument we've often heard: that suicide is legal, but assisting in suicide is not possible. The extension here, in Gloria Taylor's circumstances, was that, because of her disability, she was unable to take actions to bring about her own death and needed, therefore assistance.

This is a muddle-headed judgement. Moreover, because Justice Smith also found that Canadian law on assisting in suicide was in breech of the Canadian Charter of Rights, she gave the parliament 12 months within which to amend the law.

Suicide was decriminalized (note: not legalized); that is to say: the statute in relation to suicide was removed from the Criminal Code, simply because to stigmatize someone who failed in an attempt to kill themselves further by adding a criminal conviction was not considered to be at all helpful. Note well, however, that temporary detention under the provisions of mental health laws remains a possibility; which is further indication that society still sees suicide as something that needs to be prevented and that severe suicidal thoughts indicate psychological problems.

The Star Phoenix Newspaper reported today on what I think we will soon see as a developing modus operandi for many so-called right-to-die groups. The Farewell Foundation's (nice name) Russell Ogden is arguing for a set of protocols to enable his members to attend at the death of someone who commits suicide without fear of falling foul of the law.

Ogden argues that people who want to suicide should not be alone and that somehow, the attendance of people from his group helps in such matters as making sure that a relative does not come in unawares and finding a corpse.

But this too, is muddle-headed thinking. Yes. Ogden does suggest that the protocol should involve discussions with family and methods of making sure that there is no pressure being placed upon the person who wishes to die (all necessary if you want to convince the authorities to go this way, I might add), but, ultimately this is a system that relies entirely upon the integrity of the Farewell Foundation people involved and how they report what took place.

Is it wise to take the scrutiny on such matters that resides currently with the law and the courts and pass it on to people who have no other onus of responsibility except to a protocol written by their own organisation who, at the end-of-the-day, are advocates for the right-to-die?

I can't comment on the intentions of Ogden and his group except to take what has been reported in the press at face value: that they are genuine in their intentions. But the risk here is extreme in as much as we are placing the responsibility for proper action and proper reporting on otherwise unaccountable individuals. 

Some might say that we'd be putting the fire bug in charge of the fire department. What we can conclude is that, by incremental extension, this protocol - even if it were initially applied conscientiously, will at some time break down. We know this has occurred in both the Netherlands and Belgium with the reporting procedures on euthanasia in those places: what begins as an exception soon becomes viewed as a 'right' and, if a right, then reporting procedures are a hindrance to that right as are guidelines for who qualifies.

The Carter decision, if it stands, and the protocols of the Farewell Foundation are really a recipe for Elder Abuse. We cannot, on the one hand trumpet the rights of the elderly to protection from abuse whist at the same time, regardless of any protocol, abandoning them to the ultimate form of Elder Abuse.


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