The CUC and Assisted Dying

Faded roseThe Canadian Unitarian Council has a long history of advocating for the right of people to choose the time and manner of their death in specific circumstances. In 2011, the CUC was granted intervenor status in a B.C. Supreme Court case on the issue because of its long-standing involvement in and support for the legalization of assisted dying. Represented pro bono in the case by Vancouver lawyer Tim Dickson, the CUC argued that the criminalization of physician-assisted suicide was contrary to section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, infringing on the right to life, liberty, and security of the person.

In its submissions, the CUC concluded that “the true touchstone of our law and our public morality is respect for individual autonomy regarding an individual’s body and significant life choices. It is that interest which must mark the line of criminality in respect of end of life decisions”. Based on these and other arguments, Madam Justice Lynn Smith ruled in favour of the plaintiffs, finding that the criminalization of physician-assisted suicide deprives some of the plaintiffs of their interests in life, liberty, and security of the person and do so in a manner that is both overbroad and grossly disproportionate.

The CUC received intervenor status again when the case reached the Supreme Court of Canada in 2014. In February 2015, the Supreme Court ruling that the ban on medically assisted dying was unconstitutional was greeted with cautious relief. In light of this ruling, Vyda Ng, the CUC’s Executive Director, said: “The CUC looks forward to the day that this becomes fair and equitable legislation across the country, and we will continue to work to make sure that legislation becomes good practice, with careful safeguards in place”. The CUC has since participated in the federal government’s consultations on implementing the ruling to legalize physician-assisted suicide, making both oral and written submissions. The legislation was put in place in June 2016.

The CUC’s long history of advocacy on the issue includes three resolutions dating back to 1973, dating back to 1973, as well as representatives of the CUC appearing before the Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in 1994 to testify on the basis of its 1993 resolution. In its brief, the CUC argued that society should not have the power to prevent mentally competent, irreversibly ill persons who feel their worth and dignity are being eroded from choosing to end their lives; that the law must extend compassion to persons in this situation; and that polls show a clear majority of Canadians support physician-assisted suicide.

The CUC’s support for the right to die is based on multiple UU principles, including the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity, and compassion in human relations; and the use of the democratic process. Directed by these principles in 2014, the Unitarian Universalist Ministers of Canada (UUMOC) affirmed, as a matter of religious principle, the right of individuals who are terminally ill, to make choices for themselves in the manner and timing of their death.

The CUC continues to be involved, working towards more comprehensive legislation. For more information, contact choice-in-dying@cuc.ca.

Check out the work of Dying with Dignity Canada