Rare Disease Report

Lawsuit Contends Canada's Assisted Suicide Law Too Restrictive

JUNE 27, 2016
James Radke, PhD
One week after Canada passed the assisted suicide legislation, a 25-year-old woman with spinal muscular atrophy has launched a legal challenge against the new federal law with the help of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). According to the BCCLA and Ms Lamb, the law is unconstitional since the law only allows those with a terminal illness from being eligible for assisted suicide. The law does not permit patients such as Julia who are suffering with no immediate end in sight from being able to make their own choice.
Similarly, Canadians with diseases such as spinal muscular atrophy, multiple sclerosis, spinal stenosis, locked-in syndrome, traumatic spinal injury, Parkinson’s disease and Huntingdon’s disease are not eligible for medical assistance in dying under the new law.
One concern that Ms. Lamb has is that her disease will eventually rob her of the ability to properly communicate what she wants or how much pain she is in. According to a news release, ‘her disease could progress to the point that she is subjected to constant severe pain in which she would lose the ability to use her hands or arms, would require a ventilator for assistance with breathing, and would no longer be able to speak, write or use her computer, and requires constant care, thereby losing her independence. Ms. Lamb could find herself trapped in a state of intolerable physical and mental suffering for years and even decades.’
Ms. Lamb stated:

“This is about agency, choice and compassion. This is about the most fundamental values that define being Canadian. Respecting each other’s choices, even when those choices are different from one another. What I am asking for is essential to my wellbeing and autonomy. I am forced to suffer with this disease without a choice, a disease that inherently limits my opportunities for choice. If my suffering becomes intolerable, I would like to be able to make a final choice about how much suffering to endure.”
Josh Paterson, executive director for the BCCLA added:

“The government’s bill will trap patients in intolerable suffering and takes away their hard-won charter right to choose assistance in dying. The new law is unconstitutional because it denies individuals the right to have control over choices that are fundamental to their lives and prevent unnecessary suffering.”
Under current laws, it is legal to commit suicide in Canada. Patients also have a right to accept or refuse medical treatment, even if that choice leads to death (ie, stop a respirator). However, patients currently do not have the right to have a clinician provide them with assistance (ie, medication) if the patient does not have a terminal illness.
Below is a video from BCCLA.org about the new law.


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