FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Toronto and Winnipeg: February
Suicide Decision Changes Landscape, Makes Disability a Defining Issue
Today’s decision of the
Supreme Court fundamentally alters end-of-life for all Canadians. The Council of Canadians with Disabilities
(CCD) and the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) are profoundly disappointed
by today’s ruling and extremely concerned about the implications of the ruling.
An immensely important
discussion must now begin with Canadians and politicians at all levels, with
civil society, health professions and the legal community. We start from the premise that the lives of Canadians
with disabilities are worthy of the utmost respect. Such respect, regrettably,
cannot be taken for granted.
To begin this
critical discussion, we offer the following questions, reflections and
- As we each near the end of our lives, at the time when we are
likely to be most vulnerable to despair and fear, we have now lost the
protection of the Criminal Code. Where
shall we now find that protection? CCD and CACL caution that our collective
response to this question must go far beyond the technical exercise of so-called
- In the final stages of a terminal illness, at the time when
grief and fear may be most powerfully present in our lives, Canadians must now
decide for themselves whether life is worth living. Among them are the most
vulnerable Canadians, those who are dependent on others, and who are relegated to the margins of social
and economic participation. We must not allow them to be diminished again in
the coming discussions about their own end of life options.
- At the time when our physical powers fail us, every Canadian
will now be obliged to calculate how much love and support is too much to ask
of others. How shall we ensure that the
needs of the dying are not by default secondary to the well-being of the
- As we
contemplate the changes about to unfold in the wake of this decision, our
elected officials must take notice of the pressing questions that are of urgent
concern to Canadians with disabilities. To what extent do conditions of poverty,
exclusion and lack of support actually restrict autonomy, and erode the human will to live among dependent
Canadians? Will our governments stand firm in maintaining and expanding home
care services and supports for community/independent living? Will our national
commitment to suicide prevention extend to persons with disabilities and
degenerative conditions? Most critically, will access to palliative care become
a universally available health care service to provide needed support and
choice at the end of life?
What happens now? In the days
ahead, members of CCD and CACL will review the judgment in detail, seeking to
grasp its full implication and to comprehend the Court's dramatic departure
from a legal precedent established 22 years ago in Rodriguez v British
Columbia. And in the months and years to come, we will redouble our efforts to
secure conditions of equal respect and robust citizenship for all Canadians
with disabilities. The stakes are higher now than ever before.
Debate leading up to this legal
decision has too often been polarized and divisive. CCD and CACL know that
Canadians wish to be compassionate. CCD
and CACL are resolved to work creatively and in good faith to build solidarity among justice seeking communities
as we embark upon the journey invoked by today’s Court's ruling.
There are difficult days ahead. The Canadian disability movement remains
united in our claim that the lives of people with disabilities matter. We speak with one voice in our
condemnation of all forms of discrimination and abuse. We affirm together our
entitlement to live good lives in places and conditions of our choosing.
Consistent with our long history of fearless and principled advocacy, we now
join with fellow citizens across the full spectrum of views on end-of-life in
an urgent call for universal, unencumbered access to the highest possible
standard of palliative care in Canada.
In the dialogue to come, we
urge respect, openness and assurance that Canadians with disabilities and our
representative organizations can fully participate, in full confidence that our
experience, voices and knowledge are valued.
We seek wise decisions guided by the values of diversity and inclusion
that define us and underpin our Canadian society.
Commentary on SCC Assisted Suicide Judgment in
Carter v. Canada –
- The judgment creates the
potential for the most permissive and
least restrictive criteria for assisted suicide in the world, putting
persons with disabilities at serious risk.
- CCD and CACL are disappointed
that the views of people with disabilities in Canada, as shared by the leading
disability advocacy groups around the world, were disregarded by the Court.
- The Court did not impose a
requirement of terminal illness, as
is required in the states of Washington and Oregon.
The judgment permits assisted
suicide on the basis of psychological
suffering. This places people with serious mental and emotional
disabilities at risk, as well as people who have not yet come to grips with
- The judgment allows people to decline palliative and other care that
would alleviate their suffering, and imposes an obligation on the state to
provide Assisted Suicide, but not palliative care.
- The Court has focused on
striking the law using two potentially expansive criteria –in doing so, it paid no attention to ensuring Assisted
Suicide is limited to a small number.
- The judgment makes the existence
of a “grievous and irremediable medical
condition” , rather than a terminal illness, one of the two primary
criteria – this potentially means that all
persons with a serious disability in Canada can access Assisted Suicide.
This degree of permissiveness does not exist anywhere else in the world.
- The second criteria, “intolerable suffering,” is completely subjective and will make it difficult to review decisions of
doctors like Dr. Kevorkian who felt the existence of a disability was
- Numbers are revealing – in
Belgium, the number of Assisted Suicide deaths has increased an average of
47.77% annually since 2003, and in the Netherlands it has increased 64.13%
since 1995, with no end in sight to this increase.
- Parliament can and should act to place crucial safeguards on the Court’s judgment to limit access to assisted suicide
- CCD and CACL call on Parliament
to show national leadership on the issues of palliative and long-term care to
reduce the number of people who will choose assisted suicide out of desperation
because they do not have access to support systems to ease their end of life.
For the CCD/CACL Factum to the
Supreme Court of Canada see http://ccdonline.ca/media/humanrights/carter-factum-ccd-cacl-14-08-28.pdf
CCD and CACL representatives will
be available for comment following the Supreme Court decision Friday:
Jim Derksen, CCD Ending of Life
Ethics Committee 204 781-4187
Catherine Frazee, CACL 902 818-2812 (for her Op-Eds on this topic
Dean Richert, Chair CCD Ending of
Life Ethics Committee 204 951-6273
Amy Hasbrouck, Not Dead Yet
Laurie Larson, President, CACL
Michael Bach, Executive Vice-President
Laurie Beachell, National Coordinator CCD Ph. 204
Carmela Hutchison, Disabled Womens’ Network 403 935-4218
Nancy Hansen, CCD Ending of Life
Ethics Committee 204 474-6458
Heidi Janz, CCD Ending of Life
Ethics 780-431-2061 email email@example.com
Tony Dolan, CCD Chairperson 902
Download the full version of the press release in English or French
Download CCD-CACL Key Concerns document regarding the Assisted Suicide decision