OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously struck down the ban on providing a doctor-assisted death to mentally competent but suffering and “irremediable” patients.
The historic and groundbreaking decision from the country’s top court sweeps away the existing law and gives Parliament a year to draft new legislation that recognizes the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable suffering to seek medical help ending their lives.
The judgment, which is unsigned to reflect the unanimous institutional weight of the court, says the current ban infringes on all three of the life, liberty and security of person provisions in the Charter, and it does not limit physician-assisted death to those suffering a terminal illness.
The pressure will now be on Parliament to act in an election year, as the court says no exemptions may be granted for those seeking to end their lives during the 12-month suspension of the judgment.
The case was brought by the families of two now-deceased British Columbia women, supported by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
Gloria Taylor, who had a neurodegenerative disease, eventually died of an infection. Kay Carter, then 89, travelled to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is allowed.
Taylor had won a constitutional exemption at a lower court for a medically assisted death in 2012, but that decision was overturned in subsequent appeals.
Today’s judgment comes 21 years after a nearly identical challenge was rejected by the top court in a case that made Sue Rodgriguez a household name in Canada.