Sui­cide case awaits judg­ment

Chief Jus­tice says ‘time is cer­tainly of the essence’ in as­sisted-dy­ing ap­pli­ca­tion

Northern Pen - - FOCUS - BY JAMES MCLEOD

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.”

PHOTO BY JAMES MCLEOD

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.

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