Suicide case awaits judgment
Chief Justice says ‘time is certainly of the essence’ in assisted-dying application
A St. John’s man will have to wait a few more days to learn whether he will be allowed to die.
The matter was heard in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, concerning a 66-year-old man suffering from prostate cancer.
Lawyer Kyle Rees said his client meets the criteria to end his own life under a 2015 Supreme Court of Canada decision on physician-assisted suicide, namely that he is a mentally competent adult, and he is experiencing “grievous and irremediable suffering.”
“This is a case about reducing suffering. It’s a strange application. If I’m successful, my client will die,” Rees said.
Chief Justice Raymond Whalen listened to the arguments from both Rees and provincial government lawyer Rolf Pritchard. The provincial government is not in opposition to the man’s application for physician-assisted suicide.
There is a publication ban covering aspects of the case, specifically any information that would identify the two physicians who have signed affidavits supporting the medically assisted suicide in this case.
Rees said his client was not physically able to come to court on Tuesday.
Whalen didn’t deliver a ruling on Tuesday, but said he will make his decision on the matter quickly, acknowledging that “time is clearly of the essence.”
All of this takes place amid a legal vacuum. In the case of Carter v. Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Criminal Code provisions relat- ing to physician-assisted dying.
Parliament was given a grace period to draft a new law that respects an individual’s right to die in certain circumstances, but the deadline passed last week.
In that vacuum, the provincial government has issued guidelines saying doctors will not be prosecuted if they’re carrying out assisted suicide in line with the Supreme Court of Canada decision.
Rees said he hopes Ottawa will act soon with a new law - it would be a welcome thing if his case were made redundant.
Most of Tuesday afternoon’s argument concerned relatively arcane legal matters, but Rees said he’s hopeful the judgment will reassure the doctors who will ultimately help the man end his life.
But Rees said he hopes Whalen’s judgment will pro- vide some guidelines for future cases.
“It would be helpful to have some guidance from this court - not only for this province, but for the rest of the country on a go-forward basis - on what the extent of court involvement or solicitor involvement needs to be,” he told reporters after the hearing.
“If the clarity we receive from the court says there’s no need to come to court anymore, this is a medical decision that’s been weighed in on by the Supreme Court of Canada, and you don’t need to come back here anymore, well, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a fine result.”
Lawyer Kyle Rees was in Supreme Court Tuesday arguing on behalf of a 66-year-old St. John’s man who would like to end his own life with the help of a physician. The case is the first of its kind in Canada.