Nova Scotia euthanasia case reveals complexities of law

A case in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia exemplifies the complexities of legalised euthanasia. An 83-year-old man and his 82-year-old wife of 48 years have split up over his plans to seek euthanasia. She is seeking an injunction to prevent him from being given a lethal injection.

The husband says that he is suffering and near the end of his life because of advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. However, his wife claims that his wish to die is not based on physical illness but on anxiety and mental delusions. 

The matter has risen through the courts. Last week a Nova Scotia Court of Appeal judge sided with the husband. "The Supreme Court of Canada decided that medical assistance in dying is a constitutionally-protected right. Parliament debated and passed the MAiD scheme into Canadian law. It seems Mrs. Y wants to relitigate issues that have been considered and decided by both the SCC and Parliament," the judge wrote.

The wife’s lawyer, Hugh Scher, protested that a lack of consensus on the man’s mental state makes the law absurd. "An arbitrary and broken legal process … permits the intentional killing by euthanasia of those who lack capacity and who don't meet the most basic requirements of the law.”

Jocelyn Downie, a Dalhousie University law professor and a campaigner for the right to die, disagreed. Euthanasia, she said, is “a legal health service and characterizing it as putting someone to death is incendiary and inflammatory." 

"There's a man waiting to exercise his constitutional rights," Downie said. "And these procedural moves are creating, have been creating a barrier to him to exercise his procedural, his constitutional right." 

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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