Christian Legal Fellowship to assist Quebec court considering expansion of euthanasia

Euthanasia should not become a go-to solution for suffering in Canada.
— Derek Ross, CLF Executive Director & General Counsel

MONTREAL, ON – Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF) has been granted leave to intervene in Truchon v. Procureur général du Canada, a legal challenge seeking to expand access to euthanasia for patients who are not dying or terminally ill. 

CLF was one of the few organizations to intervene at all levels of court in Carter, and has expressed concerns about the legal and ethical implications of widening access to the practice. Derek Ross, CLF’s Executive Director and General Counsel, explains: 

Euthanasia should not become a go-to solution for suffering in Canada. There are grave implications to making a medical and legal determination that a viable life is no longer worth living. Countries that have broadened access to euthanasia outside the end-of-life context provide troubling examples. In Belgium and the Netherlands, euthanasia is viewed less as a rare procedure that exists only to hasten imminent death, and more as a final ‘treatment option’ for many conditions, including mental illness. Such an approach shifts suicide from a tragedy to be avoided, to a widely accepted – even celebrated – solution to suffering.

CLF will be represented in the litigation by Montreal lawyer Robert Reynolds. Mr. Reynolds explains how expanding access to euthanasia also engages the interests of vulnerable persons in need of protection:

The courts in Carter recognized that there are inherent risks in permitting euthanasia, and utmost care must be taken to try to avoid them. Expanding access to euthanasia increases these risks, including the presence of subtle and societal pressures placed on vulnerable patients: the more widely euthanasia is provided, the greater the risk that some patients will receive it who do not truly wish to.

Background

The plaintiffs in Truchon (aged 49 and 72) have cerebral palsy and post-polio syndrome, respectively. Both seek euthanasia, but have been ruled ineligible by their physicians because they are not terminally ill nor near death. The plaintiffs are asking the Quebec Superior Court to declare provisions of Bill 52 (Quebec) and Bill C-14 (Federal) invalid, on the basis of sections 7 and 15 of the Charter.  

CLF's Intervention

CLF's intervention will focus on the need to balance individual autonomy with the rights of other vulnerable persons, as well as broader, societal considerations, such as those listed in the preamble to Canada’s euthanasia legislation. These include:

  • The need “to affirm the inherent and equal value of every person’s life and to avoid encouraging negative perceptions of the quality of life of persons who are elderly, ill or disabled”;
  • The notion that “suicide is a significant public health issue that can have lasting and harmful effects on individuals, families and communities”;
  • The “irrevocable nature of ending a life” and the need for “robust safeguards … to prevent errors and abuse in the provision of medical assistance in dying”; and
  • The “interests of vulnerable persons in need of protection and those of society”.

Specifically, CLF's anticipated arguments, outlined in its Motion Record, include the following (translated from French):   

a. The Plaintiffs invoke articles 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter. However, the rights set forth in these paragraphs are not absolute. In considering the Plaintiffs' claims to these rights, the Court must also take into consideration the rights of patients who do not wish their lives to be terminated, but who risk being rendered vulnerable by making medical aid in dying more readily available;

b. The Court must also take into consideration the interest of Canadian society in discouraging and minimizing suicide, and in opposing the normalization of suicide as a means of dealing with suffering;

c. Making medical aid in dying more readily available will affect disproportionately persons living with disabilities and/or with incapacities;

d. The more medical aid in dying is made available to persons such as the Plaintiffs who are living with disabilities and/or incapacities, the more the rights of other persons living with disabilities and/or incapacities under article 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter will be put at risk, that is, their right to equal protection under the law, and their right to life, liberty, and the security of the person;

e. In fact, the present case instituted by the Plaintiffs is based on an ideology according to which autonomy and self-determination are more important than anything else, even than the inviolability of human life. The present Intervenor will demonstrate the weakness of this philosophy. It will also show that the philosophical basis for section 7 of the Canadian Charter is in fact the inviolability of human life, and this is necessary in order to protect all Canadians, including those who are weak, elderly, and who are suffering from mental or physical disabilities;

f. As the Supreme Court of Canada has stated in the Carter decision, questions raised by the Plaintiffs herein, such as the criteria necessary to have access to medical aid in dying, should be reserved to legislatures rather than to the Courts.

 

Further Reading

  • To read more about CLF's involvement in advocating for the right to life and protections for vulnerable persons in regard to assisted suicide/euthanasia, click here
  • A copy of the plaintiffs' application for declaratory relief is available here (in French).
  • To read CLF's written submission to the Council of Canadian Academies, click here