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Legatus Magazine

Cover Story
Matthew A. Rarey | author
Oct 01, 2011
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Death by doctor

The stakes are high in Canadian courts as they consider euthanasia, assisted suicide . . .

Having repeatedly failed to pass legislation legalizing euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide, Canada’s “right-to-die” lobby is bypassing the political process by going to the courts.

Culture of death

In August, British Columbia Justice Lynn Smith agreed to fast-track a challenge to Canada’s euthanasia and assisted suicide laws brought by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), which represents Gloria Taylor and the family of Kay Carter. Hearings commence Nov. 15. The BCCLA launched the Carter case in April, claiming that Canada’s criminal code provisions against euthanasia and assisted suicide are unconstitutional.

Kay Carter’s family accompanied her to Switzerland last year where she died by assisted suicide at the Dignitas suicide center. The claim states that Carter’s rights were violated by a law that prevented her from dying by euthanasia or assisted suicide in Canada.

In June, the BCCLA launched an amendment to the Carter case by adding Gloria Taylor, 63, to the statement of claim. Taylor, who lives with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, says that she wants to die by euthanasia or assisted suicide. She claims the laws that prevent her from dying in this way are unconstitutional.

If their arguments hold, a judge’s decision would legalize euthanasia by consent, whereas Canada’s parliament last year rejected a bill to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide by a vote of 228 to 59.

Culture of life

Alex Schadenburg

Leading the pro-life response is Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) and chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International.

“We’re seeking intervener status in the court, which will allow us to call in witnesses to show why current laws are not unconstitutional,” said Schadenberg, who has headed the organization since its 1999 founding. “It’s a very important process, and it’s very expensive because we’re engaging in a total court case with a full legal team. Last year our entire budget was around $200,000, and this case alone will cost us about $100,000.”

Schadenberg believes that they have a politically strong position.

“When polls say 70% of Canadians support legalization [of assisted suicide], what do they actually support? Our polling shows that very few people strongly support decriminalization — that the majority of Canadians don’t really support euthanasia or physician assisted suicide, but they do fear a bad end-of-life situation. When we asked them about palliative care, attitudes toward people with disabilities, we always asked what should be the government’s priority: 60% said Canada should be focused on providing better end-of-life care.”

And who are the proponents of legalization?

“Many of them are eugenicists, believing that some lives are not worth living,” Schadenberg said. “But if we legalize euthanasia, it’s not about you gaining a right to die, but a doctor gaining the right to cause death to patients. Even in a secular world, can you feel really safe when fellow citizens are involved in the deaths of fellow citizens? Are you not concerned that they’d like to amend the homicide law? Losing protection against murder would open the door to a host of life-threatening problems.”

Jim Hughes

Jim Hughes is president of the Toronto-based Campaign Life Coalition, vice-president of the International Right to Life Federation, and a member of Legatus’ Toronto Chapter. He applauds Schadenberg’s efforts.

“Without the work Alex has done, we wouldn’t have been able to hold the pro-death lobby off as long as we have. They’re frustrated with a lack of wins in politics, so they’re trying to do an end run in the courts to force the issue,” said Hughes, who has been campaigning for prolife causes since shortly after Canada legalized abortion in 1969.

High stakes

Hughes is concerned that a pro-death decision in the provincial courts could be upheld by Canada’s Supreme Court unless the public is better educated about what’s at stake.

“The lack of understanding about euthanasia is appalling,” he said. “We’re in a battle to protect those at the end of their lives by reaching out to them in love, not considering them useless eaters and making the medical profession complicit in their murder. We have to change hearts and minds, helping people realize we have laws on the books based on the Judeao-Christian moral understanding that say you can’t kill innocents.”

Michele Boulva is director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), an autonomous organization founded by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus to promote Catholic teaching on life and family issues. By publishing and disseminating educational literature about these life-and-death issues to a network of parishes and families across Canada, COLF aims to educate clergy and laity alike about euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Like Hughes, she says formation is key for the culture of life to come out on top.

“In the public square, if you use pro-life arguments based solely on religion, many people won’t listen,” she said. “So we also provide arguments rooted in philosophy and right reason. On the other hand, we also make profoundly Catholic arguments about the Christian meaning of suffering that is overshadowed by the utilitarian arguments of the opposition.”

Despite the challenges ahead, Boulva remains confident.

“The challenge is huge, but we know that Christ is with us,” she said. “So I think we need to count on him and be open to what he wants us to do. I’m hopeful because I know that all this may seem very bad, but God can make good out of bad. Protecting innocent life in Canada will be a long-term fight, but you never know who we’ll touch along the way: a journalist, a member of parliament. It’s mysterious. This is a perfect example of the battle of good against evil that has always gone on in human history.”

Matthew A. Rarey is Legatus Magazine’s editorial assistant.

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