It took only 10 days after the final passage of Bill C-14, the new federal assisted dying law, for it to be challenged in court.
On June 27, 2016, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) — the same organization that led the way on the game-changing Carter case — launched the court challenge, along with Julia Lamb, a 25-year-old B.C. woman with spinal muscular atrophy, a severe neurodegenerative disease.
At the heart of the lawsuit is Bill C-14’s restrictive eligibility criteria, which allows medical assistance in dying to only those individuals whose natural deaths are “reasonably foreseeable.” As a result, many Canadians suffering intolerably from a grievous and irremediable illness — and therefore qualify for assisted dying under the rules laid out in the Supreme Court’s decision in Carter v. Canada — are now prevented by law from accessing their hard-won Charter right to a peaceful and dignified death.
While the government has said that medical assistance in dying is not exclusively for those with terminal illnesses, clinicians, in some cases, are being advised by lawyers to err on the side of caution and only assist those individuals whose deaths are imminent.
For individuals who face intolerable suffering with no immediate end in sight, this new law provides no peace of mind. Canadians suffering from conditions like multiple sclerosis, spinal stenosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease have been effectively stripped of a right they were granted by the Supreme Court of Canada.
For Julia Lamb, the idea that her disease could get progressively worse is not simply a possibility — it is a reality. Unable to ignore the way her “ligaments and tendons have contracted over time,” leaving her in pain and with limited mobility, Lamb has decided to fight for her right to exercise full autonomy over her life and her body. She knows that, at any given moment, her condition could worsen and that she could face decades of suffering.
“My biggest fear is that if my condition suddenly gets much worse, which could happen any day, I will become trapped,” she said. “I am terrified that I could be trapped in a state of physical and mental suffering that could last for months, years, or even decades. If my suffering becomes intolerable, I would like to be able to make a final choice about how much suffering to endure.”
Dying With Dignity Canada will be following this ongoing legal challenge closely in the coming weeks and months. We stand with BCCLA, Julia Lamb, and every critically ill Canadian whose end-of-life rights have been threatened. To learn more about the case, go to the Lamb v. Canada page on the BCCLA's website.