Supreme Court upholds Canada’s right to reargue facts in assisted-dying case

Julia Lamb and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association are spearheading a challenge of the law

The Supreme Court of Canada has rejected a bid by a severely ill woman and a civil liberties group to speed up their lawsuit that argues the right to assisted dying is unfairly limited by federal government law.

Julia Lamb and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association are spearheading a challenge of the law that allows assisted dying only for individuals whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

The plaintiffs asked a lower court to prevent Canada from relitigating facts already decided in the Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 case that overturned a ban on assisted dying.

They argued that granting their request would mean a quicker trial on their lawsuit and potentially bring relief sooner to suffering Canadians.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled the government should be given a second chance to argue the findings of fact. The B.C. Court of Appeal declined to overturn the decision.

The country’s top court on Thursday declined to hear an appeal.

“We will vigorously fight this case at trial, but the result of today’s decision is that the federal government will have the opportunity to have a second kick at the can and relitigate lots of factual questions that they already lost in the (2015) case,” Josh Paterson, executive director of the civil liberties group, said in a statement.

“We are disappointed that the court has decided not to hear our appeal, which might have stopped the government from having a virtual do-over on the evidence from the earlier assisted dying case.”

The trial is expected to take place next November.

READ MORE: Death is a medical choice, but not for everyone

READ MORE: Number of medically assisted deaths in B.C. rise in first half of 2017

The federal government has asserted that new arguments are required because the latest case involves different plaintiffs, a different legal regime and a different set of issues compared with 2015.

The 2015 Supreme Court ruling directed that medical assistance in dying should be available to consenting, competent adults with “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions that are causing enduring suffering that they find intolerable.

The civil liberties association, which also led the original court challenge, filed its latest lawsuit within days of the federal law being enacted in June 2016.

The group contends that the law violates the charter by excluding individuals who could live for years with medical conditions that cause intolerable suffering

Lamb, 26, has spinal muscular atrophy, a degenerative disease she worries will lead to years of unbearable suffering by robbing her of the use of her hands and forcing her to use a ventilator to breathe and a feeding tube to eat.

She was not available for comment on Thursday.

Shanaaz Gokool, CEO of Dying With Dignity Canada, said her organization was disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision. She said the court’s 2015 ruling gave hope to people who are suffering.

“Unfortunately, for people who are currently outside of the legislation — which is far narrower, much more restrictive, and we believe unconstitutional — they don’t have that hope. They don’t have that comfort,” she said.

People are still going to Switzerland to seek assisted death or are considering options to kill themselves, Gokool said.

For some, simply knowing they qualify for assisted dying gives them the hope they need to live for one more summer or to make it to a child’s wedding, Gokool added.

“Some people don’t have the option. They could be giving up good, quality life, but they just don’t see any other way forward. It’s devastating for people in these situations.”

A second woman who was also included as a plaintiff along with Lamb has since died.

Robyn Moro, 68, suffered from Parkinson’s disease but was initially denied medical help in dying because her natural death was not considered reasonably foreseeable. She ended her life with the help of a doctor in 2017 following an Ontario Superior Court ruling that clarified how imminent a natural death had to be to qualify for assisted dying.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fifty spectators will be allowed in the West Fraser Centre, alongside 50 people on the ice. (Lindsay Chung Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
After tumultuous week of changes, Quesnel’s West Fraser Centre allowing spectators again

Capacity limits at the rink have changed four times in the past two weeks

The Quesnel SPCA is looking for foster homes for kittens, puppies and other small animals. (BC SPCA Photo)
“Genuine lifesavers”: BCSPCA puts out call for foster volunteers

The COVID-19 pandemic means more foster volunteers are needed to handle reduced capacity

Quesnel residents still needed to cross Fraser River footbridge, despite the winter weather. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Quesnel discovers October winter wonderland

Cariboo residents awoke to snow on their cars, and plows on the road to deal with the white stuff

Grizzly bear sightings are up in the Likely area this year. (Ivan Hardwick photo)
COS says grizzly bear sightings up in the Likely area

Two grizzly bear siblings were moved a short distance away from Likely

<em>Little Women</em> tells the story of four sisters and their trials and tribulations during the American Civil War. (Submitted)
Nazko sisters give classic novel modern twist

Joelle and Shelby Wyminga adapted Little Women into a six-part podcast, to be released Nov. 14

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Charges laid against Prince George man, 39, in drug trafficking probe

Tyler Aaron Gelowitz is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 18

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

Most Read