By Hugh Scher, Legal Counsel - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
Article first appeared on Alex Schadenberg's Blog
Québec's landmark law allowing euthanasia contravenes Canadian criminal homicide laws and represents a dangerous step towards a patchwork quilt of provincial regulation of serious criminal conduct, which is why the issue must be handled federally, says Toronto health, human rights and constitutional lawyer Hugh Scher.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC), represented by Scher, was granted leave to intervene in a constitutional challenge brought by the Physicians Alliance Against Euthanasia and Vivre Dans La Dignite, Living With Dignity, against both the federal and Québec provincial governments arguing Québec's law, which was adopted last summer and will go into effect in December 2015, is stepping on federal jurisdiction by undercutting sections of the Criminal Code that outlaw assisted suicide and euthanasia and by attempting to define the intentional killing of patients by doctors as healthcare.
The proposed safeguards in the law are discriminatory and violate ss. 7 and 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, says an affidavit filed by the Coalition.
"Any change to decriminalize euthanasia is properly the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada, as it is in its pith and substance a question of criminal law," says the court document. "The federal law is and should be paramount in order to ensure certainty, universality and equal benefit and protection of the criminal law across Canada."
Hugh debating the issue on CBC Canada
Scher recently appeared at the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of EPC in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), arguing the court should maintain its previous ruling on the matter in Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General). In Rodriguez, the court found s. 241 was not infringing on certain rights under the Charter, or that any such infringements were justified as there was no halfway measure that could meet Parliament's legitimate objective to protect the vulnerable and promote life.
EPC's core message in the Québec case echos its position in Carter that the intentional killing of patients by doctors is wrong and unlawful. The affidavit states:
"Euthanasia is not health care, but is instead the antithesis to health care."
"Legalization of physician-assisted suicide and/or euthanasia would fundamentally alter the very essence of the doctor-patient relationship in a manner that is contrary to the values and highest traditions of the medical profession to do no harm and would thwart the importance of intention as a factor that delineates between criminal conduct and legitimate health care,"
Having been granted intervener status in several cases dealing with end-of-life issues - including the well-known Supreme Court matter Cuthbertson v. Rasouli â€“ EPC says it has "a useful and different perspective" on the subject, along with special expertise and interest.