SUPREME COURT OF CANADA – RENDERING PUBLIC POLICY
ON PHYSICIAN ASSISTED SUICIDE IN THE CARTER CASE
The Macdonald-Laurier Institute awarded the Supreme Court of Canada as Policy-maker of the year in 2014. This award was well deserved. The Supreme Court of Canada has done it again in handing down its decision today that physician assisted suicide is legal, despite the differing opinion of Parliament.
This same issue was raised in Parliament on nine (9) occasions since 1993, and has been the subject of six (6) separate votes – all of which upheld the law against assisted suicide. These decisions were made with the support of all the political parties. But the Supreme Court of Canada does not seem at all concerned about the opinion of a democratically elected Parliament, which supposedly represents the views of the population. The Judges clearly believe that they know better which is in the best interests of the public.
According to this decision all that is required to achieve assisted suicide is the person’s consent, providing that the person has a grievous and irremediable medical condition including illness, disease and disability. What could be broader than this?
The opinion by the Supreme Court of Canada is particularly oppressive when it declares that: “Nothing in this declaration would compel physicians to provide assistance in dying.” How long will it take before future decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada modify this statement? What about the rights of other medical personnel such as nurses, hospital staff and those working in the fields of psychology and counselling? What about the rights of hospital Chaplains, or the rights of paramedics responding to an attempted suicide? What about teachers, priests and pastors – would they be reprimanded or disciplined if they counselled someone wanting to end their life? Clearly, the court has not thought through its decision.
Today’s decision on physician assisted suicide is obviously not based on law and precedent, but is based on the personal opinion of the Supreme Court Judges. This is indisputable, owing to the fact that if the Court had based its decision on the law, it would have reached the opposite conclusion on assisted suicide since this same Court set a precedent in 1993 in the Sue Rodriguez case in which it upheld the law prohibiting assisted suicide.
Under the legal principle of stare decisis whereby a Court is bound by its previous decisions, the Supreme Court should have upheld the Rodriguez case. Instead the Court has abandoned stare decisis and ventured on to a new pathway in rendering its decisions. The Court has declared in this case that all that is required to change previous legal precedents is that new legal issues must be raised and that there be a change in circumstances or evidence which fundamentally shift the parameters of the debate. These broad parameters certainly give the Court wide leeway to decide any future case that comes before it as it sees fit.
This decision of the Supreme Court of Canada today means that all Canadians are now the prey of and vulnerable to the idiosyncratic personal views of the nine appointed judges on the Supreme Court. We live in troubling times.