Advocating for the Sanctity of Life
as a Friend of the Court:
A Report on the Truchon Hearing
After 31 days of hearing, the case of Truchon and Gladu v. the Attorneys General of Canada and Quebec came to an end in Montreal on February 28, 2019. In addition to the principal parties, there were a total of seven intervenors, two supporting the plaintiffs and five supporting the two defendant governments. Christian Legal Fellowship (under its French name Alliance des Chrétiens en Droit) was one of the intervenors supporting the government side.
The plaintiffs (Jean Truchon and Nicole Gladu) each suffer from a medical condition that is both irremediable and degenerative, but in both cases, their condition is not terminal (that is, the plaintiffs are not dying). Although Madame Gladu is more independent than Mr. Truchon, both are well cared for, and neither one is ready, at this time, to seek medical aid in dying. Both plaintiffs have been informed by their doctors that, at this stage of their illnesses, they are not eligible for medical aid in dying, because the Quebec law, among other things, requires that they be at ‘the end of life’, and the federal law requires that their natural death be reasonably foreseeable.
Both plaintiffs oppose these requirements, and are asking the Quebec Superior Court to declare them unconstitutional, and to remove them from the law. They invoke the Charter, more specifically, article 7 (liberty and security of the person) and article 15 (equality rights). They also argue that these two laws are unconstitutional because the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Carter case did not stipulate that a candidate for euthanasia be at the end of life, nor that their natural death be reasonably foreseeable. In other words, the plaintiffs argue that the federal and provincial governments were not free to deviate from the conditions for euthanasia laid down in Carter.
The two governments (supported by CLF) argued that the Supreme Court did not, in fact, legislate in Carter. It simply decided that the law (as it then was) was ‘overbroad’. The Court in Carter had characterized the purpose of the complete ban on assisted death as the protection of vulnerable persons, and the Court decided that a complete ban was unnecessary for that purpose, and so it declared the ban unconstitutional.
On the other hand, the purpose of the federal legislation (Bill C-14) now being attacked by the plaintiffs was not limited to the protection of vulnerable persons. The purposes of Bill C-14 included the affirmation of the inherent and equal value of every human life, the prevention of suicide, and the protection of vulnerable persons. Moreover, there was no longer a complete ban in the law. Bill C-14 permitted medical aid in dying (MAID) under certain circumstances which, the governments argued, were not overbroad, but were, in fact, necessary to achieve the purposes of the law.
The intervenors representing the interests of disabled persons argued that if the end of life requirement were removed from the law, those they represent would be at greater risk of coercion to end their lives. Much evidence was presented regarding the extent of suicide in Canada and the need to contain and reduce it. Experts presented by the federal government argued that if the end of life requirement were removed, many patients currently being treated by psychiatrists to prevent their suicide would become eligible for MAID and suicide rates would increase. This opinion was borne out by expert evidence from Holland, where there is no end of life requirement in the law. In the last ten years in Holland there has been a steady increase in the number of people being euthanized, and during that same period, suicide numbers in the general population have increased at a higher rate than those in neighbouring countries such as Germany.
Unlike any other party or intervenor, CLF urged the court not to lose sight of the moral dimension of what was being requested. CLF was afforded half a day for oral submissions, during which we reminded the court that the sacredness or inviolability of human life remains one of the most basic moral principles in our society, a fact that was recognized even in the Carterdecision. We urged the court to do more than pay lip service to this foundational principle.
We pointed out that, in the end, this case represented a clash of values or ideologies: on the one hand, the autonomy of the individual, or self-determination, and on the other hand, the sacred character of human life. Together with the two governments, we argued that this case necessarily engaged the interests of society as a whole, and could not be restricted to the autonomy of the individual.
We urged the court to show deference to the efforts of both governments to limit access to MAID in a reasonable manner, in order to promote the greater good of society.
We ended our written and oral arguments with the following quote from Professor Trudo Lemmens, who was one of the expert witnesses called by the Attorney General of Canada:
*Robert Reynolds graduated from Bishop’s University in 1965 with an honours B.A. in French and Philosophy (Magnis cum honoribus). He received a Bachelor of Civil Law degree from McGill University’s Faculty of Law in 1968. He was admitted to the Québec Bar in 1969 and has practiced law in the Province of Québec since that date. He has pleaded before all levels of court, including the Supreme Court of Canada. Robert has a particular interest in issues relating to freedom of religion and conscience, and over the years has represented a wide variety of churches and religious organizations. Robert is happily married to Judy, and they have three adult daughters and three grandchildren. He is an elder at Faith Community Bible Church in Beaconsfield, Québec. Robert previously served as the President of the Board of Directors of Christian Legal Fellowship from 2009 to 2018. Robert has represented CLF in numerous interventions, most recently at the Quebec Superior Court in the Truchon case.