Forcing sick patients to suffer through painful, agonizing deaths without the ability to ask a doctor to help them end their lives is akin to “torture,” a lawyer told the British Columbia Court of Appeal on Wednesday as he argued for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide.
Joseph Arvay, who represents several plaintiffs in a case that saw the law struck down last year, said the ban on assisted suicide leads some patients with terminal illnesses to end their lives early, because they know they won’t be able to seek a doctor’s help if they become debilitated later.
He said the federal government is forcing those patients to make a cruel choice between suicide and suffering.
“The choice for those people is, if they comply with the law, they will suffer, and for some of the people the suffering could be tantamount to torture,” Arvay told a three-judge appeal panel.
“So they’re given the choice: torture or early death. And some people will take the early death, because they were driven to that choice by the law.”
The appeal stems from a landmark decision out of the B.C. Supreme Court, which ruled last year that the federal law banning doctor-assisted suicide is unconstitutional.
The federal Conservative government appealed, arguing allowing doctor-assisted suicide would undermine the sanctity of life and put vulnerable and disabled patients at risk of being coerced to kill themselves.
The plaintiffs have argued the ban on doctor-assisted suicide violates the charter and discriminates against people with disabilities, because suicide is legal for people who are physically able to end their lives but assisted suicide for debilitated patients is not.