Webcast archive: Ontario Superior Court ruling

This week, we look at an Ontario Superior Court ruling that may change the definition of the “reasonably foreseeable” eligibility requirement.

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss:

  • Ontario Superior Court rules disabled woman’s death is reasonably foreseeable
  • FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: Aren’t we taking away people’s autonomy and dignity by not allowing assisted suicide?

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.


  • A Superior Court judge in Ontario has ruled that a woman with Osteoarthritis is on “a trajectory toward death” and therefore fits the fourth eligibility criteria under Canada’s assisted dying law.
  • Judge Paul Perell ruled in the case of “A.B.” a 77-year-old woman who applied to the court earlier this spring after her doctor feared prosecution if he performed euthanasia and A.B.’s natural death was not found to be “reasonably foreseeable.”
  • The court said that, to be “reasonably foreseeable,” the person’s death does not have to be imminent, within a specific time frame, or be the result of a terminal condition.
  • Judge Perell said the legislation is intended to apply to a person who is “on a trajectory toward death because he or she a) has a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability; b) is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability; and c) is enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable.”
  • The judge said it was clear from the evidence that A.B. doesn’t have long to live, “given her age and health.”
  • However the judge did not rule on whether A.B. meets all the criteria of the law.  In so doing, he sought to avoid a situation where courts would pre-approve euthanasia by granting immunity to doctors from prosecution.
  • He said the problem was not in the law, but in doctors’ misunderstanding the law and being overcautious.
  • Though the decision applies only in Ontario, it will probably have an effect on two cases currently challenging the constitutionality of the eligibility criterion in bill C-14 that death must be “reasonably foreseeable”.  The British Columbia and Québec courts hearing those cases will probably examine the Ontario decision closely for guidance in interpreting that section of the law.  They may view the broad reading of the law, which considers a disabled but not “terminally ill” person’s death to be “reasonably foreseeable,” as meaning the law does not violate the person’s constitutional rights.  On the other hand, the BC and Québec courts could decide that the doctor’s unwillingness to perform euthanasia for fear of prosecution shows that the federal law is too unclear to be constitutional.

Q:     Aren’t we taking away people’s autonomy and dignity by not allowing assisted suicide?

  • For assisted suicide to happen, another person (a doctor, a pharmacist) must step in and take action on the person’s behalf.  Where health services are paid by the government, this could be seen as a state action.  (True autonomy would mean committing suicide on your own).
  • Eligibility for assisted suicide is determined according to government standards, based on the judgment of doctors and nurses.  That’s even more interference.
  • The diagnosis and treatment for the underlying condition is also not an independent process.  It will be influenced by the doctor’s knowledge, opinions and choices, as well as wait times, access to medications or services adapted to the person’s needs, and the limits of what your insurance will pay.
  • A person’s quality of life is also influenced by many factors beyond the person’s control, including whether home-based support services and access adaptations are available, relations with family members, and the presence of an emotional support network.
  • In an interdependent society “autonomy” is an illusion.  We are all dependent on the infrastructure (utilities, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and shipping) and on health care and social services for our health and well-being.