Bob McCoskrie reports:
The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled that Canada’s ban on assisted suicide is unconstitutional. Justice Lynn Smith issued a 395-page ruling in the Carter v. Canada case Friday morning, determining that the ban discriminates against the disabled. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, which intervened in the case, immediately urged the Crown to appeal Smith’s decision to the BC Court of Appeal and to seek an order that stays the effect of the decision until such time as that appeal is heard. Given that suicide is legal in Canada, Justice Smith argues that the ban violates the equality provision in section 15 of Canada’s Charter because it prevents the disabled from getting the help they may need to kill themselves. The case centres on Gloria Taylor, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS in 2009. Taylor says she does not currently wish to kill herself, but wants to have assurance that she could receive help to commit suicide in future. Justice Smith argues that the ban “perpetuates disadvantage” because it “is felt particularly acutely by persons such as Ms. Taylor, who are grievously and irremediably ill, physically disabled or soon to become so, mentally competent and who wish to have some control over their circumstances at the end of their lives.” Ironically, Justice Smith also argues that the ban violates the right to life under section 7 of the Charter because it could lead someone to commit suicide earlier than they might otherwise, while they are still physically able to do it themselves.
I think the court is absolutely right. Our current laws do mean people commit suicide before they might otherwise. Read Rodney Hide’s speech here for a sad example. An extract:
I want to raise a memory of a man whom many members knew—Martin Hames, who died last year on 8 August. If Mr Brown’s bill had been the law, Martin Hames would still be with us, I am sure. He would not have needed to take his own life, as he did. He had Huntington’s disease. He discovered in 1979 that his mother had it. He did not marry, because he had a 50 percent chance of getting it, and he was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. He had watched his mother die a terrible death—a death where one loses one’s mind and loses control, to the extent that one cannot swallow.
Martin Hames loved life. He loved independence. He could not stand the thought of ending without the ability to swallow. Last year he prepared everything. He swallowed a whole lot of pills and he passed out. He had bought new pyjamas, and he had a note pinned to his chest saying “Please do not resuscitate”. The ambulance came, and they resuscitated him. He came to in hospital, and they said to Martin Hames that he had septicaemia in his legs and they wanted to take them off. He said: “What would happen if you don’t take my legs off?”, and they said: “You will die.” He said: “Well, good, because I have Huntington’s disease.”
They gave him some pain relief and pushed him off to the side in Wellington Hospital, and he spent the day dying. I dreaded going to see Martin Hames and saying goodbye to a very special friend, but one of the greatest things I have ever done is seeing a man dying with dignity. He told me, when I went in there, and he told all his friends—from Treasury, from Michael Cullen’s office, people from across the political spectrum who had worked with him, and from the National Party—that he was having a good death. He used to call me “Boss”, and he said: “I’m having a good death, Boss, because I didn’t think I’d get the opportunity to say goodbye to all my friends.” He had that chance.
A sad end, which was avoidable.