C H N BCACL Euthanasia Policy

 

British Columbia Association for Community Living (BCACL)

Euthanasia Policy

Policy Issue

Euthanasia is commonly understood to be killing a human being to end their suffering or perceived suffering, without their consent.

Despite several decades of a disability rights movement that has established greater visibility and equality rights for people with disabilities, individuals who are particularly vulnerable to societal prejudice now face a renewed and explicit threat to their lives. Within a climate of mounting concerns about health care costs and as a result of high-profile legal cases involving euthanasia or "mercy-killing", public pressure on politicians to relax current laws prohibiting euthanasia has intensified.

Because people with disabilities are frequently judged to have lives that are not worth living, sanctioning euthanasia in law could not only exert pressure on people with disabilities to justify their right to live, but would also grant non-disabled citizens the right to end someone elseís life based on their own perceptions of disability, pain and suffering.

Given that everyone experiences a range of joy and suffering and that no one can truly appreciate anotherís quality of life, society cannot allow individuals to judge whether or not anotherís life is worth living. While some would sanction euthanasia under the guise of "compassion" or because they see people with disabilities as an economic burden, the result of legalizing euthanasia would be to further endanger the lives of societyís most vulnerable people.

Purpose

To safeguard the lives of people with disabilities.

Guiding Principles

  1. Everyoneís life is of equal value in our society and deserves full protection under the law.
     
  2. No one can judge the value of another personís life.

Background

At different times throughout history people with disabilities have been subjected to extreme societal prejudice which has curtailed their right to live as full and equal citizens in their communities. As recently as the 1930ís and 40ís, Nazi Germany carried out a large-scale extermination program against people with disabilities which took the lives of thousands of individuals. Such attitudes continue in different forms today, and have openly emerged in current debates about euthanasia and "mercy killing."

In The Matter of Stephen Dawson [1983] B.C.J.No.38 (B.C. Supreme Court, March 18, 1983) the BC Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision regarding the rights of children with disabilities to receive appropriate medical and surgical care. That judgement saved the life of a boy with cerebral palsy named Stephen Dawson who required surgery to repair a malfunctioning cerebral shunt. Because Stephenís parents had refused to give their consent for the operation, BCACL intervened. The result was a highly publicized court case that eventually removed Stephen from his parentsí custody and allowed the operation to go ahead. This court decision affirmed the fundamental value of each individualís life and refuted the notion that the life of a person with severe disabilities is not worth preserving.

A decade later, an emotional public debate regarding the right to life and medical treatment for persons with disabilities was re-ignited when Robert Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison without parole for killing his 12-year-old daughter, Tracy. Tracy lived with cerebral palsy. That debate continued through subsequent appeals, a second trial, and a final appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, which upheld Latimerís second-degree murder conviction and 10-year prison sentence. In addition to revealing a serious lack of understanding about people with disabilities and the value of their lives, this debate has resulted in increased public support for clemency for Robert Latimer as well as a growing call for Canada to relax current laws prohibiting euthanasia.

BCACLís membership adopted a formal position against euthanasia in 1995 and in 2001 voted unanimously in favour of renewing our public education and lobby efforts on this issue. With this foundation in place, BCACL has taken a leading role with others in the disability rights movement in opposing attempts to introduce a third category of murder into Canadian Law that would legally recognize euthanasia as "mercy killing".

Policy Statements

1. BCACL does not support the legalization of euthanasia.

2. BCACL does not support the creation of a lesser category of murder for "mercy killing" under the Criminal Code.

 

Source BCACL

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