The Supreme Court of Canada and Religion: Examining the Supreme Court’s 'secularity' By Way of Assisted-Dying

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Cory STEELE, University of Ottawa, Canada
In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the Carter decision that the prohibitions against physician-assisted dying, as outlined in section 241(b) of the Criminal Code, were unconstitutional as they violated an individual’s s.7 rights as outlined in the Canadian Charter or Rights and Freedoms. Though the jurisprudence of this landmark decision and subsequent amendments to Canadian law are interesting in and of themselves, what deserves particular attention is the Court’s monumental shift from religious to nonreligious understandings of certain key concepts once at the heart of religious doctrine and the implications this shift has on the Court’s claim of being a ‘secular’ institution. In its decision, the Court drastically changed its understandings of life, death, and suffering (among others) by re-framing them in ways deemed as nonreligious. In doing so, the Court indirectly upholds its claim of being a ‘secular’ institution. Using the Carter decision and how the Court interprets physician-assisted dying as a point of analysis, this paper questions the Supreme Court’s supposed ‘secularity’ by assessing this shifting (non)religious landscape. Utilizing the data collected from a discourse analysis of the Carter decision and the accompanying intervener submissions, I ask if the Court is indeed a secular institution. In short, does the presence of nonreligion imply a ‘secular’ institution, or does it perhaps suggest something more nuanced.