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Canadian Judges Impose Euthanasia. One Year for Parliament to Draft Law By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, JUNE 22, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Last Friday the Supreme Court of the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) ruled that the current law prohibiting physician-assisted suicide is invalid.

Parliament was given a year to draft legislation allowing euthanasia, although the government has the option of appealing to Canada’s Supreme Court.

The decision came as a result of a case brought by Gloria Taylor, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The decision was welcomed by some, including Grace Pastine, of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, who said it was a “major victory for individual rights at the end of life,” according to a report by the Globe and Mail newspaper the day of the decision.

The written decision, by Madam Justice Lynn Smith, was described by the National Post as being “based on novel interpretations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” wrote Brian Hutchinson later that day.

Two years ago, he noted, a private member’s bill seeking to legalize assisted suicide was defeated 228 to 59. “But the elected Commons is no match for the courts; the Charter usually trumps all,” he commented.

Judge Smith also ruled that Taylor would have an exemption from current laws, meaning she does not have to wait for Parliament to pass legislation if she wishes to die.

Ethicist Margaret Somerville described the decision as “a very bad idea and a step backward for Canada and Canadian values, ethics and law,” in an article published June 16 in the Globe and Mail.

Crossing the line

“Legalizing assisted suicide/euthanasia means crossing the line that we must not intentionally kill each other, the only exceptions being where that is the only reasonable way to protect human life, as in self-defence,” she explained.

She also observed that there are serious concerns about the abuse of euthanasia, particularly with the elderly and at a time when governments and hospitals are under pressure due to increasing demands.

Why not do more to relieve pain and to assist dying people and to make them feel respected, she asked.

The court’s decision to strike down the law against euthanasia “sadly reflects a distorted view of equality rights that emphasizes autonomy over human dignity and the value of life,” declared Vancouver’s Archbishop J. Michael Miller in a June 16 statement.

“We have been down this road many times around the world, and all the safeguards initially put in place wind up either disregarded or eventually dispensed with,” he said. “The result is euthanasia harms not only those whose lives are taken, but those responsible for taking them,” he concluded.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops deplored the decision, in a statement published on Monday.

They cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2280, which says "We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of."

We stand before a fundamental option, they continued:  “Do we show concern for the sick, the elderly, the handicapped and vulnerable by encouraging them to commit suicide or through deliberating killing them by euthanasia? Or, instead, do we fashion a culture of life and love in which each person, at every moment and in all circumstances of their natural lifespan, is treasured as a gift?”

Defend not abet

Writing for the National Post on June 18, Will Johnston protested that: “the Charter is meant to defend us against violations perpetrated by the state, not abet self-inflicted injuries or death.”

In campaigns against the death penalty Johnston observed that one argument is that sometimes mistakes are made and innocent people die. Yet, we cannot be sure that mistakes will not be made with euthanasia, particularly with people who are depressed. Moreover, in other countries with legalized euthanasia the rules governing its use are often ignored.

Dutch hospitals have admitted euthanizing babies with deformities and people who are mentally handicapped and are incapable of informed consent, pointed out Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno on June 18.

“The slippery slope isn’t an exaggeration; it’s human nature,” she argued.
Brighter side

Not all recent news on euthanasia is bad. Last Friday also saw a decision, by English High Court judge, Mr Justice Peter Jackson, that a woman suffering from severe anorexia who wants to die may be force-fed.

“We only live once – we are born once and we die once – and the difference between life and death is the biggest difference we know,” Jackson wrote in his decision.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, more than 100 delegates from right-to-die organisations gathered in Zurich for the Congress of the World Federation of Right-to-Die Societies, which ran from June 13 to 16, the agency Swissinfo reported.

Then, on June 17, voters in the Swiss canton of Vaud approved a law regulating euthanasia, Swissinfo reported.

The new rules were proposed to counter an initiative by assisted suicide organisation Exit, which would have gone further by guaranteeing people in care facilities the unconditional right to die. Voters, however, rejected Exit’s initiative.

One thing is certain: the struggle over assisted suicide going to continue in coming years.