According to the National Post:
“In a unanimous decision, The Supreme Court Friday struck down as unconstitutional the nation’s contentious century-old law against assisted suicide.”
“Today’s ruling stems from the appeal of a 2012 lower court ruling launched on behalf of two British Columbia women with debilitating and terminal illnesses, Gloria Taylor and Kay Carter, both now dead.
During oral arguments in October, their lawyers argued that section 241(b) of the Criminal Code, prohibiting aiding or abetting someone to commit suicide, violates the Charter’s section 7 rights to life, liberty and security of the person and condemned them to a life of severe and intolerable suffering.”
Just so you know where I am coming from, I actually agree with the plaintiffs as far as the issue of assisted suicide is concerned. While I agree that the suicide of a teenager, distraught over some insignificant teen angst is a horrible tragedy, I am nevertheless sympathetic with a terminally ill cancer patient who only wishes to end his pointless suffering. I think that such people understand their own predicament far better than a disinterested onlooker can. I believe they should be free to decide their own fate without outside interference from busybodies - busybodies who may be motivated by values they don’t themselves hold. The law is there to protect us from predatory criminals, but beyond that, it should leave us alone.
But here is the thing: I also believe in a limited constitutional democracy, where the laws we live under are enacted by our duly elected representatives. I understand that my opinions on suicide are not shared by every other Canadian, but fortunately we have a place where conflicting moral claims can be debated and settled. That place is Parliament.
In contrast, the purpose of the Supreme Court is to interpret the law in specific, problematic or difficult cases. Perhaps there are novel factors at work that were never pondered by our parliamentarians. In such instances, it is the Court’s job to interpret the law using accepted legal practices – but to take care and not exceed the limitations inherent in those practices. This case is not like that. The law in question here expressly contemplated the topic of suicide, and declared it illegal. Every Parliamentarian who voted for that law knew what suicide is and if he had wanted an exemption for mercy killing, he would have put it in.
The other function of the Supreme Court is to ensure that Parliament does not exceed our constitution. Is that the case here? According to the press, one of the relevant Charter Rights passages is section seven:
“7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”
No fair reading of this passage could lead one to the conclusion that it requires the legalization of suicide or mercy killing. The plain purpose of this text is to ensure that Canadians are not subject to arbitrary arrest or punishment. In other words, whenever a Canadian is arrested or sentenced it must be in accordance with principals and procedures enshrined in British common law, such the presumption of innocence. To be sure, adjudicating the application of such principles in particular cases usually requires a legal degree in order to properly understand the technical issues involved. But this is not the case here. Whether suicide or mercy killing should or should not be tolerated is a matter for morality. It is not about a legal technicality. The place for deciding such questions is Parliament, if the answer is not explicitly stated in the constitution (as is the case here).
Whenever the Supreme Court exceeds it proper role, the less we live in a free society and the more we live under an unelected oligarchy. We find ourselves in a place not too dissimilar from ancient Egypt, where a caste of priests made up laws via the examination of chicken entrails under the guidance of obscure and inscrutable principles.
Unfortunately reigning in the Supreme Court is easier said than done, because that body does have a legitimate role in checking the constitutional abuses of Parliament. How do our Parliamentarians constrain the Court without effectively removing the legitimate power that the Court should be able to exert over Parliament itself? A question worthy of King Solomon.
Worse still, few of our Parliamentarians are inclined to take up this challenge. The extremist radicals prefer the current arrangement because they like getting laws enacted that they cannot pass by conventional means. Judge-made laws are a favourite tactic of the left. The rest of our politicians are glad that the Supreme Court is willing to tackle messy moral issues for them, no matter that deciding such issues is what they are getting paid the big bucks to do.
All of this may sound like a quibble, especially by somebody who agrees with the particulars of the ruling itself, but it is though such procedural decay that the legal foundations that make Canada strong and free are gradually being undermined.