Monday, October 27, 2008

The Supreme Court Decision Pt 2 - Euthanasia in the Law

This is a continuation of the previous description of the supreme court judgements on euthanasia. In this section we will take into consideration Sections 12 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and hopefully convey their relationship to Section 214 of the Canadian Criminal Code.

Section 12. Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

According to the appellant in this case, by prohibiting assisted suicide, the government was subjecting her to "cruel and unusual treatment or punishment", due to the fact that they were forcing her to live in torturous circumstances. The judgement by the supreme court on this issue was that a prohibition against assisted suicide is not "treatment" because there is no active role the government is playing in the painful circumstances. Thus, the lack of an active role by the government in the appellants circumstances ensured that Section 12 was not being violated.

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

At first glance this statute appears relatively neutral to euthanasia. However, when considering this, one also has to account for the fact that suicide (unassisted) was decriminalized by the government because it was an ineffective deterrent for many people. This means that individuals who suffer from a physical disability and are unable to commit suicide themselves, also suffer from a fundamental inequality under the law. In their case, the government has the power to reach into their lives and infringe upon their fundamental autonomy by criminalizing suicide, while an individual who does not have this same level of physical disability can attempt suicide with no criminal consequences. 

The issues raised by section 15(1) are extremely complex and while it appears that Section 15(1) of the charter was actually infringed upon, the supreme court decided that Section 241 was justified under section 1 of the charter.

Section 1:  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

As was discussed before, the government was determined to have a reasonable objective in enacting Section 241 of the Criminal Code, which was protecting vulnerable citizens and the sanctity of life in society as a whole. This appeared to be a recognition by the supreme court that to strike down section 241 and eliminate the blanket prohibition of assisted suicide would place the government in the awkward position of having to police "justifiable" assisted suicide attempts. They stated that no system of policing has up to this point proved satisfactory, so they therefore judged that the blanket prohibition was "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society" and section 241 was upheld.

Thats the basic outline of Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General) and hopefully for anyone reading that it made sense. Please don't hesitate to ask any questions if I wasn't clear on anything or leave a comment if you agree or disagree with the rulings. 

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