VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) – For the second time in a month people have sued the Canadian government, seeking to overturn the criminal prohibition of doctor-assisted suicide. A married couple say they fear prosecution for helping the wife’s mother end her life in Switzerland, and a doctor says he would be willing to provide the service.
Lee Carter, Hollis Johnson, Dr. William Shoicet and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association claim in B.C. Supreme Court that the Canadian Criminal Code’s provisions against assisted suicide are unconstitutional.
Carter and Johnson, a married couple, say they had to travel to Switzerland to obtain legal physician-assisted suicide for Carter’s mother, Kay, who was incontinent and plagued with ill-health at the end of her life.
After attending a clinic in Switzerland in 2009, the couple say, they “continue to fear that the assistance they provided to Kay may render them subject to criminal prosecution in Canada.”
The couple add that they “each want the option of being able to arrange and legally obtain, in Canada, physician-assisted dying services for themselves, for each other and for other loved ones, in the event that either of them or any other loved one should suffer a grievous and irremediable illness and wish to end the suffering and die with dignity.”
Dr. Shoicet says that he’s treated many “grievously” ill patients in his 30 years as a family doctor. He says that if the criminal prohibitions are overturned, he would be “willing to participate in physician-assisted dying for capable grievously and irremediably ill patients where satisfied it constituted appropriate medical care in the circumstances.”
“Dr. Shoicet would require that he be satisfied the patient in question was fully informed, had given due and proper consideration to the issue, and was expressing a continuing and genuine desire for death,” the complaint states.
While some countries have begun to allow physician-assisted suicide, the plaintiffs claim Canada has unconstitutionally “restricted the ability of grievously and irremediably ill patients to obtain the physician-assisted dying services required to manage their death in a human and dignified manner and thus, to determine, for themselves, the when and how of the experience of death.”
They are represented by Joseph J. Arvay with Arvay Finlay.