VANCOUVER - A right-to-die organization can't challenge Canada's law barring assisted suicide because its plaintiffs are anonymous, a B.C. judge ruled Wednesday, but the group still hopes to intervene in a competing case scheduled to be heard in the fall.
The Farewell Foundation launched a lawsuit on behalf of four anonymous people who want help ending their lives, arguing the Criminal Code section dealing with assisted suicide violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
B.C. Supreme Court Judge Lynn Smith ruled the group doesn't have standing because the plaintiffs were anonymous, but she recommended the Farewell Foundation apply to intervene in a separate case about to head to trial, said foundation spokesman Russel Ogden.
"We felt that it was important that people who are in states of serious suffering be able to attend to their personal health circumstances rather than become the standard bearers for the right-to-die movement," Ogden said in an interview.
"We will be applying to intervene (in the other case), and we will be applying to lead evidence in that."
The Farewell Foundation's failed case was the second lawsuit filed in B.C. this year challenging the constitutionality of the law banning assisted suicide.
This past spring, a B.C. woman named Lee Carter filed a lawsuit challenging the law after escorting her mother to Switzerland, where a doctor helped end her mother's life. The case also included the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and a Victoria doctor.
Since the lawsuit was filed, 63-year-old Gloria Taylor of West Kelowna, B.C., was also added as a plaintiff. Taylor, who has ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig's disease — convinced a judge to fast-track the case and a four-week trial is now scheduled to begin Nov. 15.
Ogden said his group is already preparing an application to intervene. He noted the Farewell Foundation's legal setback Wednesday won't stop the issue from being heard in court and encouraging a public debate about assisted suicide.
"It's moving forward, the conversation continues, the debate will continue and there's going to be a trial," said Ogden.
"There was strong support 20 years ago for Sue Rodriguez, and we are seeing again strong support for both the Farewell Foundation and the Carter case."
Rodriguez, who also had ALS, challenged the law two decades ago. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled against her in 1993, though she killed herself anyway with the help of an unidentified physician the following year.
Sheila Tucker, one of the lawyers in the case that will be heard in November, said it's too early to say whether her clients will support the Farewell Foundation's application for intervener status.
"We'll really have to wait and see what the nature of their actual application is. All we know is that they intend to apply, but not on what terms."
The two lawsuits diverged on some key issues, namely what model would be appropriate if assisted suicide is legalized.
The lawsuit filed by Carter and Taylor calls for doctor-assisted suicide, while the Farewell Foundation wants Canada to adopt the system used in Switzerland, which Ogden said allows others to aid in suicides, as well.
"We think that it should be broader and that non-physicians should be able to provide similar services," said Ogden.
"We know this works well in other jurisdictions, and we believe there's no reason to believe it could not work well here."
In the meantime, Ogden said some of his group's members aren't prepared to wait.