This article was published in the National Post on February 6, 2015.
By Andrew Coyne
One measure of the eerie complacency of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) — the euthanasia case — is that it spends more time on the question of where to award the costs of the case than it does on the implications of its decision. Six pages on costs; three pages on where the hell is this all leading?
In one sense, the decision is narrowly drawn. The Court confined itself to deciding whether the present absolute ban on assisted suicide — the norm in all but a handful of countries, as it has been through most of our history — was “overbroad.” In seeking to protect vulnerable Canadians from abuse, it ruled, the law also caught in its net competent adults who had freely chosen to end their life — or rather, who had invited someone else to end it for them, a hitherto crucial distinction the Court does not trouble itself with. As such, the law encroached upon the right to “life [sic], liberty and security of the person” more than could be justified under the Charter’s “reasonable limits” clause.
Having found a way to throw out the law — did anyone doubt that it would? — the Court then refused to rule on a number of other questions put before it: whether the ban deprived the disabled of their right to “equal treatment” under the Charter, for example, or whether the harm it caused was “grossly disproportionate” to the good it did. That may seem like magisterial restraint. In fact it is a kind of myopia. For all of these questions and more are likely to be back in front of the court before long, and all of the fine distinctions on which the Court insists a new law might be constructed will then surely dissolve.