New plaintiff joins B.C. court challenge to federal assisted dying law

A 68-year-old British Columbia woman with Parkinson’s disease is the latest plaintiff to join a court case challenging a controversial restriction in Canada’s assisted dying law.

On Tuesday, it was announced that Robyn Moro, a grandmother in Delta, B.C., had added her name to the list of applicants in Lamb v. Canada. Like the other plaintiffs in the case, Moro is challenging the requirement in Bill C-14 that limits access to assisted dying to only those Canadians whose natural deaths are “reasonably foreseeable.” Lamb v. Canada is the first case to challenge the constitutionality of this country’s federal assisted dying law.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s after she retired, Moro wants to have a medically assisted death in the near future because of the suffering she experiences as a result of her medical condition. According to a written statement released by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), “most of Robyn’s days are spent in severe pain. Her body shakes constantly with tremors. She has chronic nausea and vomiting, muscle freezing, and exhaustion.”

“I have so much pain every day, and I know my Parkinson’s will only continue to get worse,” Moro said in the statement. “I know what my future holds and I don’t want to endure it. I want to be able to die peacefully, with my family by my side.”

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Moro said her suffering is compounded by the fact that she is allergic to many of the pain medications that would normally be used to treat a patient in her position.

“I can’t imagine having any more pain than I have now and yet Parkinson’s is a progressive disease,” Moro told The Canadian Press’s Joan Bryden. “It progresses and mine progresses pretty quickly and so, yes, it’s terrifying to think that it will get worse and all I can take is a regular strength Tylenol.”

Lamb v. Canada was launched on June 27, 2016, just 10 days after Bill C-14 passed in Parliament. The original plaintiffs in the case were the BCCLA and Julia Lamb, a 26-year-old communications professional who suffers from spinal muscular dystrophy. The chronic disease causes Lamb’s muscles to waste, and she is concerned that a sudden deterioration in her condition could leave her dependent on a ventilator or unable to speak — outcomes she wishes to avoid.

Unlike Moro, Lamb doesn’t plan on accessing assisted dying in the near future. Rather, in documents submitted to a B.C. court, she said she wants the “peace of mind of knowing” that the option of an assisted death would be available if her suffering grew too great for her to bear.

The Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Carter v. Canada opened the door for individuals like Lamb and Moro to access medically assisted dying legally. The ruling struck down the old Criminal Code ban on physician-assisted dying and established criteria for who would be eligible. It gave competent adult Canadians who are suffering intolerably from a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” the right to die in peace with the help of a doctor.

However, by limiting access to only those Canadians whose deaths are reasonably foreseeable, Bill C-14 unfairly discriminates against individuals who, like Lamb and Moro, are suffering intolerably as the result of a severe chronic condition but aren’t expected to die for years or even decades. For this reason, a number of leading legal scholars have raised concerns about whether parts of the law would survive a Charter challenge.

Lamb v. Canada isn’t expected to go to trial until 2018. In the meantime, the BCCLA has launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay for its legal fees in the case. To contribute, or to learn more about the latest developments in the case, go to the BCCLA’s page on Lamb v. Canada.