EDMONTON - Alberta's top court has upheld a judge's ruling that a two-year-old child allegedly abused by her parents should be taken off life support.
Minutes after the ruling Wednesday, a lawyer representing the child's mother said she plans to make a last-ditch request to the Supreme Court to intervene.
But there may not be time.
Alberta Court of Appeal Justice Frans Slatter said the parents, who are in custody awaiting trial, were to be escorted within 24 hours to the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton for one last visit with their daughter before she is taken off a ventilator.
He ordered the parents, who cannot be named, to have separate visits lasting no more than 20 minutes each. They have been denied bail and are not allowed to have contact with each other.
They are charged with aggravated assault, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and failing to provide the necessities of life — charges that could be upgraded if the girl dies.
After the Appeal Court's ruling, April Kellett and Lydia Bubel, lawyers representing the mother and father, jointly asked for a stay of the decision so they could try to challenge it before the Supreme Court.
But after a few minutes of discussion, the panel of three judges dismissed the request. Slatter said there was no legal issue that merited overriding the best interests of the child.
"There is nothing further the legal system can do," he said.
Outside court, Kellett said she was going to arrange for another lawyer to appear on her behalf before the high court Thursday morning in Ottawa.
Paramedics found the girl and her twin sister, both malnourished and suffering from injuries, in an Edmonton home May 25. The girl at the centre of the appeal was in cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma. Her sister is recovering. An older brother who was also found in the home but wasn't injured is now in foster care.
Doctors have testified the girl in a coma has an irreversible brain injury and will never regain consciousness. They said she has suffered repeated illness and needs an operation to allow her to keep using a breathing machine. The operation would be the first in a series of invasive procedures and doctors have agreed there's no way to know if she can feel pain.
Alberta Child and Family Services has custody of the girl but her parents are still guardians. A lawyer representing the child said her best interests should prevail.
Lawyers for the parents, who are Muslim, have cited their religious beliefs and argued they should have the final say on their daughter's medical care.
Last week, Court of Queen's Bench Justice June Ross cast doubt on the parents' motives for wanting to keep the girl alive and ruled she should be taken off the ventilator.
The Court of Appeal granted a stay while it pondered the case. But after two hours of arguments and discussion Wednesday, Slatter said the justices had reached a unanimous decision.
He said Ross had carefully considered the ethical and legal issues and made no errors in her ruling.
"The sanctity of human life is a core value of society," said Slatter. "But life is not without end."
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Euthanasia In Canada
Here's a look at the state of Euthanasia laws in Canada and their history.
Suicide Not A Crime
Suicide hasn't been a crime in Canada since 1972. (Shutterstock)
Doctor-Assisted Suicide Illegal
Doctor-assisted suicide is illegal, although the ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court will force Parliament to alter the law within one year.<br><br> The <a href="http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/page-113.html#h-79" target="_hplink">Criminal Code of Canada states in section 241</a> that:<br><br> "Every one who (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years." (Alamy)
Passive euthanasia involves letting a patient die instead of prolonging life with medical measures. Passive euthanasia is legal in Canada.<br><br> The decision is left in the hands of family or a designated proxy. Written wishes, including those found in living wills, do not have to be followed by family or a proxy. (Alamy)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodriguez_v._British_Columbia_(Attorney_General)" target="_hplink">Sue Rodriguez</a>, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), launched a case asking the Supreme Court of Canada to allow her to end her own life on the grounds that the current law discriminated against her disability.<br><br> Because suicide is legal in Canada and Rodriguez was unable to end her life because of a lack of mobility, she argued it was discriminatory to prevent her from ending her own life with the aid of another.<br><br> The court refused her request in 1993, but one year later she ended her life anyway with the help of an unnamed doctor. (CP)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Latimer" target="_hplink">Robert Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1993 death of his severely disabled daughter Tracy</a>. A lack of oxygen during Tracy's birth led to cerebral palsy and serious mental and physical disabilities, including seizures and the inability to walk or talk. Her father ended Tracy's life by placing her in his truck and connecting a hose to the vehicle's exhaust.<br><br>The case led to a heated debate over euthanasia in Canada and two Supreme Court challenges. <br><br>Latimer was granted day parole in 2008 and full parole in 2010. (CP)
Bills To Legalize
Former Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde tried repeatedly to get legislation legalizing euthanasia in Canada passed. Bill C-407 and Bill C-384 were both aimed at making assisted suicide legal. C-384 was defeated in the House 228 to 59, with many Bloc MPs and a handful of members from all other parties voting for the legislation.<br><br> Tetraplegic Tory MP Steven Fletcher, pictured, made the following statement after C-384 was defeated: <br><br> "I would like to be recorded as abstaining on this bill. The reason is I believe end of life issues need to be debated more in our country. I believe that life should be the first choice but not the only choice and that we have to ensure that resources and supports are provided to Canadians so that choice is free. I believe, when all is said and done, the individual is ultimately responsible. I want to make this decision for myself, and if I cannot, I want my family to make the decision. I believe most Canadians, or many Canadians, feel the same. As William Henley said in his poem Invictus, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."<br><br>(CP)