Julia Lamb of Chilliwack (BC Civil Liberties Association)

Judge rules against young woman’s bid to speed up assisted dying trial

BC Civil Liberties Association bid rejected but advocates confident in final success

Julia Lamb of Chilliwack suffers from spinal muscular atrophy and has been confined to a wheelchair since age six.

Despite that, she is a remarkable young woman at 26 who said she has led a good life.

But she can’t ignore the progression of her disease and is left wondering if elements of Canada’s new assisted-dying law will be a roadblock to her making a final decision down the road if her pain becomes too much.

Last year the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) filed a constitutional challenge on behalf of Lamb and Robyn Moro, 68, a Delta woman suffering from Parkinson’s disease, to strike down an element of Bill C-14, which requires individuals to be near a “reasonably foreseeable death” to qualify for medically assisted dying.

Moro died on Aug. 31 with the assistance of a doctor, leaving Lamb as the sole plaintiff.

But on Wednesday, the B.C. Supreme Court decided against the BCCLA’s request to stop the federal government from essentially re-arguing important elements already decided by the court in Carter v. Canada.

“The downside of this decision is that the trial of our case may take longer,” said BCCLA’s acting litigation director Caily DiPuma in a statement issued Oct. 11. “And that means that more people will spend more time trapped in intolerable suffering under a law that unjustly restricts access to medically assisted death.”

The decision Wednesday, however, only lengthens a case the BCCLA was hoping to speed up.

“We succeeded in defeating the government’s arguments in the Carter case and we will succeed in defeating them the second time around,” DiPuma said.

BCCLA’s landmark Carter decision moved the government to introduce Bill C- 14, the assisted dying act. Flaws in that led to Lamb and the BCCLA challenging the constitutionality of the requirement that death be “reasonably forseeable.”

“Many critically ill Canadians are suffering unbearably as they wait for yet another trial of Canada’s assisted dying laws,” BCCLA counsel Jay Aubrey said. “The only reason we are having this trial is that Canada’s government enacted a law that is unjustly restrictive and cruel.”

The BCCLA launched Lamb v. Canada and Lamb herself addressed a press conference in June 2016 to talk about the court challenge, and to talk about her personal experiences with spinal muscular atrophy.

“I live a great life and I’m very happy. And I do not want to die right now,” she said, adding that she wants options down the road.

“I am terrified that I could be trapped in a state of physical and mental suffering that could last for months, years or even decades. Having to think about this future causes me immense physical distress.”

Not everyone is on board with the BCCLA’s fight and the right-to-die movement. The Council of Canadians with Disabilities says the conversation around end-of-life practices ignores the point of view of disability rights advocates.

The organization created a campaign against euthanasia, Toujours Vivant-Not Dead Yet.


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