British Columbia

Nix or amend right to die bill, says family of Kay Carter

A family member of one of the leading figures in the battle for physician-assisted death is calling on the Senate to either kill or amend what she calls the Liberals' "unconstitutional and misinformed" right-to-die bill.

Lee Carter says she feels betrayed by the federal Liberal bill

Lee Carter says she feels betrayed by the federal government's proposed legislation on physician-assisted dying, Bill C-14. (CBC)

A family member of one of the leading figures in the battle for physician-assisted death is calling on the Senate to either kill or amend what she calls the Liberals' "unconstitutional and misinformed" right to die bill.

"I feel betrayed," said Lee Carter, who won a Supreme Court of Canada order that assisted death should be available to all consenting, severely ill adults who endure intolerable suffering. Carter had waged a legal battle on behalf of her mother, Kay, who had spinal stenosis and died at a clinic in Switzerland in 2010.

Last year the Supreme Court ruled the law preventing doctor-assisted death was a violation of a patient's rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and eventually gave the federal government until today to put a law into place.

But the Liberals' proposed law, Bill C-14, has yet to be approved by the Senate, meaning after today, doctors can't be prosecuted under the Criminal Code if they help a patient suffering from a "grievous and irremediable" illness die.

'Nix Bill C-14 now'

On Monday in Vancouver Carter and her brother, Price, held a news conference with their legal team from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to condemn the Liberals' proposed legislation.

Carter says she feels betrayed because the federal Liberal bill would not apply to those suffering from non-terminal conditions. That goes against the Supreme Court ruling that does not require a terminal diagnosis as eligibility for assisted death, she says.

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Price Carter says the Senate needs to either 'nix' or amend Bill C-14. (CBC)

"The Liberal government has crafted Bill C-14 legislation to be so restrictive that my own mother would be turned away. People who suffer from Huntington's disease, MS, or even spinal stenosis — my mother's condition — would all be denied because they are not terminal," said Carter.

"Where did the Liberal government go so terribly wrong? They have not listened to Canadian voices, to their own joint committee, and even their own members of parliament who have serious concerns about this bill."

Carter's bother Price echoed her concerns and called on the Senate to either kill the bill or amend it.

"It's not a good first step. It's a major stumble... Be afraid of Bill C-14, Canada. In its current form, it's legislation that discriminates on age, mental status and level of health," he said. "If you ever find yourself spiraling towards a hideous but nonterminal condition, know that Bill C-14 will ensure that you are kept alive to lengthen your suffering until you die naturally."

"We call on the Senate to nix Bill C-14 now. The government claims that this bill is justified, that it will pass constitutional scrutiny. The government is plainly wrong. Their lawyers have been wrong on assisted dying for five years and they're wrong now. If this bill is not amended, we're of the opinion that it must be stopped."

BCCLA calls for amendments

Josh Paterson, the executive director for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association —  the association that fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court for the family — said he wants the Senate to use the language from the Supreme Court ruling to amend the bill.

"What we're asking from the Senate in terms of amendments, it's very simple," he said.

"The Carter decision spelled out exactly what the criteria are In the law: that someone has to have a grievous and irremediable illness, condition or disability and that they must be a competent adult suffering in an enduring way and intolerable way in their own opinion."

BCCLA lawyer Josh Paterson, shown in front of a picture of his former client Kay Carter who died in 2010, says all legal options are on the table to fight Bill C-14. (CBC)

If the bill is not killed or amended, Paterson said the BCCLA would consider going back to court to have it overturned.

"Certainly we're considering what our legal options are at the moment. For the time being, all options are on the table."

On Monday in Ottawa, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott stood by the bill and urged doctors, pharmacists and other healthcare providers to continue voicing their support for Bill C-14.

With files from The Canadian Press