VANCOUVER - The federal and provincial governments have been ordered to pay about $1 million in legal costs to the B.C. lawyers who won a constitutional challenge of Canada's ban on doctor-assisted suicide.
The right-to-die case in B.C. Supreme Court included West Kelowna resident Gloria Taylor, who suffered from ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, and had planned to seek an assisted suicide before she died of an infection last month.
The lawyers for Taylor provided their time for free, but then asked the court to award special costs for their legal bills because of the significance of the case.
David Eby of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which championed the case, told the court it was the most expensive piece of litigation the association had ever undertaken, and the costs were much higher than expected.
In a judgment released Friday, Justice Lynn Smith — who made the ruling in the assisted-suicide case in June — agreed that the lawyers who brought the challenge should be awarded special costs because of the significance of the legal action.
"The issues in this litigation are both complex and momentous," Smith said. "They affect life and death, and the quality of life of people who are ill and dying. The resolution of these issues — indeed, whatever the outcome on final appeal — will affect many people and will also have an impact on the development of fundamental principles of Canadian law."
"Many Canadians are affected by the legislation. The fact that Ms. Taylor was personally affected ... means that she had a personal interest; it does not mean that the issues were personal to her alone," Smith said.
She ruled the federal government should pay 90 per cent of the legal bills and the provincial government 10 per cent.
The federal government is appealing the B.C. Supreme Court's decision, which ruled it is unconstitutional to prevent the sick and dying from asking a doctor to help them end their lives.
Smith's decision gave the government a year to revise legislation in order to allow people to seek a doctor-assisted suicide.
In court documents released last week outlining the appeal, the federal government said legalizing doctor-assisted suicide would demean the value of life and could lead vulnerable people to take drastic steps in moments of weakness.
The appeal is scheduled to be heard next March.
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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)