National News

B.C. group arguing for assisted suicide

By Steven Chua, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - A B.C. civil liberties group has filed their written argument against an appeal court decision upholding the country's ban on assisted suicide.

Grace Pastine of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association says the organization will argue before the Supreme Court of Canada that assisted suicide should be legal on behalf of the families of people who wanted to die with dignity.

"It is time to change the law," said Anne Fomenoff, the mother of deceased high-profile plaintiff Gloria Taylor. "I feel Gloria is with me every day and I feel her sitting beside me on this table — I can hear her encouraging me, 'Go for it mom.'"

Taylor made headlines in 2012 when Justice Lynn Smith of the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the existing law banning assisted suicide was unconstitutional, but delayed her ruling for a year to allow the federal government to rewrite the statute.

Smith also granted Taylor an exemption that would have allowed her to seek an assisted death.

Taylor was terminally ill with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, but didn't use the constitutional exemption. She died of an infection in October 2012.

The federal government appealed the B.C. Supreme Court decision, and the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the ruling last October.

For other plaintiffs in the case such as Lee Carter, whose mother Kathleen Carter received a doctor-assisted suicide in Switzerland, the right to die was described as a relief.

Kathleen Carter suffered from spinal stenosis, a degenerative condition which confined her to a wheelchair.

She was in chronic pain and unable to feed herself.

"We were uplifted that my mom had been able to realize her last wish — that she would experience death, the choice being hers and the sum of her family." said Lee Carter. "But she felt Canadians shouldn't have to travel to Switzerland to die with dignity."

Sixty-seven-year-old Elayne Shapray, a plaintiff in the case whose body is wracked with multiple sclerosis called the ban on assisted suicide "discriminatory."

She says it prevents those suffering from chronic, debilitating conditions from having a peaceful death.

"Ending my life in self-starvation, overmedication or some other self-inflicted injury are my only options," she said.

She says that she is incapable of feeding herself or performing the most basic tasks without 24-hour care.

"My disease destroys the quality of my daily life in many ways," said Carter. "This compromises my autonomy, independence, privacy and self-esteem."

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association will be presenting its case in court on Oct. 14.

Assisted suicide continues to be a hotbed of debate in the country.

Quebec also was looking at legalizing doctor-assisted death with Bill 52, which died on the order paper when the provincial election was called.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Steven Fletcher said in March he plans to introduce two private member's bills that would allow assisted suicide in some cases.

The Manitoba MP, who was in an accident in 1996 that left him a quadriplegic, says one of the bills would, if passed, allow doctors to help people end their lives under certain restricted circumstances.

The other bill would establish a commission to monitor the system and make recommendations for improvement.

In 1993, Victoria resident Sue Rodriguez, an ALS patient, wanted the right to choose how and when to die and brought her case all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada, which decided to uphold the laws banning assisted suicide in a divided 5-4 decision.

Rodriguez took her own life in 1994 with the help of an anonymous doctor.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay has said he has no interest in revisiting the debate.

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