Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dier's Remorse

A curious thing happened yesterday at the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court was hearing the appeal from the BC Court of Appeal in a case about euthanasia - specifically the right for those who are unable to take their own lives to have access to "physician assisted death" ("PAD"). You can read the arguments of the appellants in their factum (statement of law and fact) here as a PDF.

Formally known as Lee Carter, et al. v. Attorney General of Canada, et al. the case began in the BC trial division, where Justice Smith ruled that (I'm grossly simplifying here) since able-bodied and mentally competent people can legally and practically end their own lives, there is an inequality because people who are physically unable to end their lives have no access to ending their lives without assistance, particularly humane, competent, physician assisted death. The trial division agreed, but the BC Court of Appeal overturned that decision. The Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal.

I'm raising this case not to deal with the ethical issues or merits of voluntary euthanasia, although for the record, I agree with the appellants, although I hope never to be faced with that decision. The obvious reality is that end of life decisions are made every single day. People agree to non-resuscitation orders and the removal of feeding tubes in hospitals and nursing homes across Canada. As a former client's Power of Attorney I was once asked for permission to remove him from a ventilator. These are hard decisions (and they should be), but we make them.

The Attorney General of Canada (through the Department of Justice) has opposed this appeal. You can read all their reasons in their own factum filed with the Supreme Court. It relies on a case called Rodriguez from 1993, the "slippery slope" argument (ie: if you allow it, where will it all end? Plus, everyone will want one...), protecting abuse (ie: bumping off Granny to get at her gold teeth), and the ever-popular "Supremacy of Parliament" argument (ie: it's up to Parliament to decide such weighty issues, not the court). Of the last one, it takes some cheek to tell the Supreme Court of Canada it shouldn't have the power to decide human rights issues under the Charter of Rights, since that's its job.

One other argument made in the factum and also in yesterday's oral presentation to the Supreme Court caught my eye as novel. Essentially, the federal government argued that it would be wrong to permit assisted suicide because the people who die that way might live to regret it.

Yes, you heard that right.

Department of Justice lawyers argued that if you allow people to commit suicide, they might regret it...

"[T]hey will be unable to voice their regret once they're dead...."

The Conservatives are well known for defending the "pre-born", but this is the first I have heard of them advocating for the post-dead.

The original trial judge rejected such a notion, pondering the obvious in her judgment wondering "if regret is possible after death."

Apparently no dead people were called as witnesses to testify via Ouija board or through the Long Island Medium about their afterlife second thoughts.