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Assisted suicide ban upheld

Appeal court's assisted death ruling "incredibly satisfying"

VANCOUVER, BC—Not only did the British Columbia Court of Appeal rule recently to uphold the Criminal Code section banning assisted suicide and euthanasia, key parts of the majority decision echoed the actual words of pro-life intervenors in the case.

"To see the court reflect very closely the language we introduced in our oral arguments concerning the Charter values of the sanctity and dignity of human life is incredibly satisfying," says Evangelical Fellowship of Canada legal counsel Faye Sonier.

The 2-1 decision handed down in early October overturned the June 2012 ruling by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith. She decided that the law was unconstitutional, and concluded that physician-assisted suicide should be allowed within strict criteria.

The federal government had appealed on grounds that this would put vulnerable people such as the aged and the handicapped at risk, and minimize the value of human life. Faith groups including the EFC intervened in support of the appeal.

Their involvement paid off. "For those of us who are concerned about protections for the vulnerable and the moves that are currently being made in Canada to legalize assisted suicide," says Sonier, "there is a lot here for us to welcome."

Smith had concluded that the way the Supreme Court of Canada had arrived at its ruling in the Rodriguez case in 1993 which upheld the ban on assisted suicide was enough to justify overturning it. The appeals court disagreed, stating, "it is important not to lose sight of what was actually decided, as opposed to how it was decided."

It also confirmed the legal principle that lower courts are bound by the decisions of higher courts. "The decision in Rodriguez was very clear," says Sonier. "So it was good to see that this could not simply be undone by a lower court judge."

The two justices ruled that only Parliament is empowered to consider changes to the law on assisted suicide. Sonier hopes that will give Quebec lawmakers "reason to pause" as they debate Bill 52, which would legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia.

The respondents in the case immediately said they would ask the Supreme Court of Canada to again take up the issue of assisted suicide. They include the relatives of an 89-year-old woman with ALS who went to Switzerland in 2010 to die by assisted death.

"If the court does decide to hear it, I don't think it's a slam-dunk for either side," says Sonier. "The Rodriguez decision was a 5-4 split and Chief Justice [Beverley] McLachlin was in the dissent at that point. We're not sure what role that will play." test2

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About the author

Senior Correspondent

Frank Stirk has 35 years-plus experience as a print, radio and Internet journalist and editor.