EFC Responds to Four-Month Extension on Assisted Suicide
January 15, 2016
The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously granted a four-month extension to Parliament to give them more time to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling in in Carter v. Canada. This gives Parliament until June 6, 2016. The Court reasoned that the four-month suspension of Parliament during the recent federal election justified the granting of an equivalent extension, but not the full six months requested by the Attorney General of Canada.
A majority of the Court (5-4) exempted the province of Quebec from the extension, meaning it can continue with “medical aid in dying,” according to the provincial laws that came into force December 22, 2015.
The majority also granted an exemption for individuals who wish to seek physician-assisted death during the four-month extension period. Individuals who wish to seek physician-assisted death can apply to the Superior Court in their own province for permission, which may be granted in accordance with the criteria set out by the Supreme Court in Carter.
While the EFC appreciates the willingness of the Supreme Court to grant an extension, we are concerned that a four-month extension is not sufficient time to allow for the full and complete assessment of the implications of the Court’s decision, the public consultation this issue demands, and for Parliament to respond. It is barely sufficient to meet the government’s own timeline. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are significant issues that require a careful, thoughtful response from Parliament, and this timeline will make that extremely difficult to accomplish.
We agree with the minority of the Court that an exemption for Quebec is unnecessary. We have previously asked the federal government to seek an injunction to postpone the implementation of Quebec’s legislation allowing assisted suicide and euthanasia until Parliament has had sufficient opportunity to respond.
We also agree with the minority that during the four-month extension constitutional exemptions should not be granted to individuals seeking assistance in ending their life.
The minority said that they did not
underestimate the complexity of the issues that surround the fundamental question of when it should be lawful to commit acts that would otherwise constitute criminal conduct. The complexity results not only from the profound moral and ethical dimensions of the question, but also from the overlapping federal and provincial legislative competence in relation to it. The Court unanimously held in its judgment on the merits that these are matters most appropriately addressed by the legislative process. We remain of that view. (par. 14)
The EFC is opposed to euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. We are deeply concerned about the broad social, moral, legal and philosophical implications of the decriminalization of these acts.
In its ruling in the Carter case, the Court affirmed that Parliament has the power to legislate on matters that touch on health. The Court cited a previous ruling affirming that the federal government has “historic jurisdiction to prohibit medical treatments that are dangerous, or that it perceives as ‘socially undesirable behaviour’ ” (par. 51). The Court also affirmed the findings of the lower court that “the risks inherent in physician-assisted suicide” call for a “carefully designed system imposing stringent limits that are scrupulously monitored and enforced” (par. 105).
The Courts have spoken, and now it is time for Parliament to respond to the Carter decision. This issue drives to the heart of the nature of our society and the duty of care we owe one another.