This Report covers the Carter Trial from November 16 – 18.
Day 3: Wednesday, November 16, 2011
The witness for day 3 of the summary trial was Dr. Marcia Angell, an expert witness for the plaintiffs. Dr. Angell was former Editor-in-Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, the world’s top medical journal. She was responsible for reviewing scientific papers and wrote many editorials to promote education about the interplay between medicine and social health. Some of her editorials were on the topic of assisted suicide and euthanasia.
The Attorney General of Canada had strong objections to Dr. Angell. For three hours Canada argued that Dr. Angell should not be allowed to give evidence and that her affidavit was a work of advocacy thinly disguised as evidence. The plaintiffs countered that Dr. Angell is a qualified medical ethicist, that her years of experience reviewing scientific papers and following the evidence to where it leads would assist the Court.
Justice Smith decided that Dr. Angell should give her evidence after the lunch break and reserved her decision on admissibility to a later time. After lunch, Dr. Angell testified for only 40 minutes and Farewell Foundation was very pleased when she spontaneously expressed her respect for the Swiss Model, which she said offered additional safeguards that would work well in the USA. Another important point she raised was about the role of science in the right to die debate. Dr. Angell said that self-chosen dying involves competing moral claims and science cannot tell us which claim is the right one. The role of science, she said, is to study the evidence that comes from our policy decisions so we can evaluate our decisions and know if we made the right ones, and what we should change.
[Note: On Friday Justice Smith ruled to admit Dr. Angell’s evidence. The Judge said she
would not disqualify Dr. Angell for want of her impartiality, after all it would be difficult to find people who do not have views—the issue is more about the reflection, consideration, and openness of the witness to change her views and that Dr. Angell had demonstrated those qualities.]
Day 4: Thursday, November 17, 2011
Dr. Helene Starks, Associate Professor from the Department of Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Washington was Thursday’s witness for the plaintiffs. She is co-author of the “Insights into Hastened Death” study which looked at legal assisted death in Oregon, and assisted death in Washington before the practice was made legal. The study found that people who are seeking a hastened death are highly motivated and engage in a
long process of deliberation and decision making. The study found that the typical person “places high value on independence and the desire to control the future. This suggests
that perhaps the patients most likely to be interested in a hastened death are those who are adamant about being in control and remaining independent.”
Justice Smith was curious about the profile of patient characteristics and asked “Aren’t there outliers?” Dr. Starks said that in her study, there were no patients who did not fit the type who wanted to maintain control and independence.
Day 5: Friday, November 18, 2011
Professor Margaret Battin was the plaintiff’s witness for Friday. She is a highly respected philosopher from University of Utah, has written about assisted death for 30 years and has consistently respected the principles of individual choice, autonomy, and mercy. Three years ago Professor Battin’s husband, Brooke Hopkins, suffered a severe and catastrophic spinal cord injury in a bicycle accident. He is paralyzed. Much was made of this by Canada and it appeared that the Attorney General was trying to argue that because Professor Battin supported her husband’s decision to continue living and that she wanted him to live that this was a contradiction of everything she had ever written. Professor Battin was adamant that the experience helped her to continue a life-long reflection on the subject, which is what philosopher’s do, and a single personal case should not be generalized to a broader principle. She said that she continues to believe that assistance
with dying is still a valid option when a person wants to die and dying is the only acceptable way to avoid pain and suffering. Professor Battin is glad that her husband has the option to live, or to end his life if he chooses.
To illustrate why it is wrong to try to take a single difficult case and turn it into an argument for a general principle, Professor Battin used the example of problematic marriages. She said that just because some marriages are morally problematic, such as shotgun marriages, green card marriages, or abusive marriages, we do not conclude that the practice of marriage is corrupt and therefore should no longer be permitted.
Professor Battin proved to be a formidable witness and was the only witness all week for
whom Justice Smith did not have a question.
The trial resumes on November 21st with Professor John Keown testifying for the Attorney General of Canada.