Nova Scotia ruling blocks wife and courts from interfering in legal assisted suicide/euthanasia disputes

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – CCN] – An elderly Nova Scotia woman’s effort to block her estranged husband from using Canada’s euthanasia system to end his life has been blocked by a panel of judges.

The judges ruled that not only doesn’t she have the right to try and stop her husband from eventually killing himself with the help of a doctor, but the ruling also says judges shouldn’t get involved in such a case either.

Nova Scotia Justice Cindy Bourgeois, who wrote the decision on behalf of a three-judge panel, said decisions about who is eligible for legalized euthanasia should be left up to “health-care assessors” and not judges, as long as health authorities follow the rules as set out within federal law.

“A supervisory or reviewing role for judges was considered and rejected by Parliament,” Justice Bourgeois said in the ruling that was released on Oct. 2, adding “courts do not possess the institutional capacity to hear and determine challenges to eligibility determinations made under the MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying”) regime.”

he decision is being slammed as a failure of the courts to protect the vulnerable from using the country’s euthanasia system to kill themselves.

At the heart of the case is the belief of the wife that her husband is not as sick as he believes and that medical reviews of his health status are at odds.

She claims her husband should not be qualify for euthanasia because he does not suffer from a life ending illness and he isn’t mentally competent to request medically-assisted death. Her husband has argued, through his lawyers, that he is indeed ill with advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and is of sound mind to make his own choice.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition’s Alex Schadenberg says the Oct. 2 ruling means that there is no way for anyone to challenge an assessment that gives the green light for an assisted suicide when there are conflicting medical opinions.

Schadenberg said that if a medically-assisted death assessor accepts “a person’s delusional beliefs” about the status of their health “there is no legal way to challenge the assessment, even if the challenger has been married to that person for 48 years.”

“When Canada’s Parliament passed Bill C-14 legalizing euthanasia the legislation required two doctors or nurse practitioners to agree that a person qualified for death by lethal injection,” Schadenberg said, adding that means under the law “as long as two euthanasia assessments approve death, it doesn’t matter if several euthanasia assessments determine that a person doesn’t qualify under the law.”

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and lawyers for the woman involved in the case say that this is “doctor shopping” to obtain the desired approval for euthanasia.

The case, which has been argued in court proceedings since August when the wife first tried to stop her husband from using the medically-assisted death system, shows the dangers of the process, one of her lawyers said after a previous court ruling went against the her on Sept. 4.

“The notion that individuals should be free to see 10 doctors who find they lack capacity, but then find two more that say they don’t to justify an assisted death is troubling and renders the safeguards and protections of the criminal law completely meaningless,” said lawyer Hugh Scher at the time

Scher reiterated that point after the Oct. 2 ruling.

“Doctor shopping is a serious concern that must be addressed. Court or tribunal oversight are essential in those rare cases where there are multiple conflicting medical reports over the core issue of capacity which is an essential condition of eligibility for MAID,” Scher said of the latest ruling.

After the decision Oct. 2 was announced, Scher indicated that the case may wind up in Canada’s Supreme Court.

The wife in the case said in a statement that she still planned to fight on.

“I am committed to seeing this matter through for the benefit and protection of my husband of 48 years and for the benefit of others across Canada in the public interest, who may lack capacity and who otherwise will remain unprotected by a MAID law that clearly lacks adequate safeguards to protect those who are vulnerable,” she said in a statement publicized by the Euthanasia Protection Coalition.

In her ruling, Justice Bourgeois said “the thought of losing him must be very painful for her. However, these feelings do not give her standing to challenge the determination he meets the eligibility criteria for MAID.”