Assisted suicide lawsuit tossed in B.C. court
Published Wednesday, August 17, 2011 4:39PM PDT
A B.C. judge is encouraging two right-to-die groups to join forces after tossing out one of two lawsuits asking for changes to Canada's criminal code.
A claim from the Farewell Foundation, filed in April, will not be allowed to continue after B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith ruled Wednesday that the group does not have public interest standing to pursue the case.
But the judge encouraged the foundation to apply for standing in a similar suit filed by the BC Civil Liberties Association, which director Russell Ogden sees as a sign of hope.
"I'm encouraged," he told ctvbc.ca. "This is not something that gets resolved overnight. There will always be hurdles, and the Farewell Foundation will continue to go the distance for our members."
Smith ruled that the foundation does not have standing because its suit was filed on behalf of anonymous members. That's in contrast to the BCCLA suit, which is spearheaded by ALS sufferer Gloria Taylor, as well as Lee Carter and her husband Hollis Johnson, who travelled with Carter's 89-year-old mother Kay to Switzerland last year to help her end her life.
Ogden says he plans to take the judge's advice and apply to join the BCCLA suit, which has been fast-tracked in the hope that Taylor will live long enough to participate.
Ogden hopes to add a new twist to that case, scheduled to head to court in November. The BCCLA is asking only that physician-assisted suicide become legal, but the Farewell Foundation wants its members to be able to help each other end their lives, as is permitted in Switzerland.
"We will seek to lead evidence about how restricting this to physicians is only one of several options and models that the court should consider," he said.
"Assisting with dying is not necessarily a medical act. Certainly, physicians are not trained and educated to ending life."
He says that the same doctors who generally aim to prolong patients' lives aren't necessarily the appropriate people to help end them.
BCCLA lawyer Joseph Arvay says it's too early to comment on the Farewell Foundation's pending application to join his group's lawsuit.
"We're going to wait and see their application, and we'll consider their position and decide later," he said.
No matter what happens, though, Ogden is optimistic that change is on the way.
"We are hopeful that the criminal prohibition on assisted suicide is going to change," he said.
"It's not matter of if the law will change; it's a matter of when or how."
In the five months since the Farewell Foundation was formed, Ogden says a few terminally ill members have passed on, but not with the group's help.
"We have pledged that the foundation will not assist in suicides until we have succeeded in clarifying the law," he said.
Some of those still left are seriously considering the option of travelling to Switzerland to end their lives at legal assisted-suicide clinics, but Ogden says they would prefer to die in the comfort of their own homes, not half a world away.