|Supreme Court of Canada - Feb. 6, 2015|
The ruling only applies to competent adults with enduring, intolerable suffering who clearly consent to ending their lives.
The court has given federal and provincial governments 12 months to craft legislation to respond to the ruling; the ban on doctor-assisted suicide stands until then. If the government doesn't write a new law, the court's exemption for physicians will stand.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay released a short statement acknowledging the ruling covers "a sensitive issue for many Canadians, with deeply held beliefs on both sides."
"We will study the decision and ensure all perspectives on this difficult issue are heard," the minister said in the statement.
The case was brought by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association on behalf of two women, Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor, both of whom have died since the legal battle began. Both women had degenerative diseases and wanted the right to have a doctor help them die.
A lawyer on behalf of Carter and Taylor argued that they were being discriminated against because their physical disabilities didn't allow them to kill themselves the way able-bodied people could.
Carter went to Switzerland with her daughter, Lee, to die. Taylor died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2012.
The ruling is not limited to those with a physical disability who require a physician's assistance to end their lives.
All nine justices share the writing credit on the ruling, an unusual action meant to signal particular institutional weight behind the decision.
'Impinges' on security of the person
The one-year delay in implementing the ruling means the ban on doctors assisting in suicides remains in place until then.
|Lee Carter and her husband Hollis Johnson react to the court ruling|
Asked about a woman with a physical disability who said she now feels pressure to end her life, Carter said she was sorry to hear that because the woman "has so much to live for."
"I want everybody in this country to live the life as they want to. But for those that ... don't want to continue, that have an incurable illness, [I'm glad] that they have a choice."
The court awarded full costs to the BCCLA and the other appellants, including Kay Carter's family. The Canadian government bears most of the cost and British Columbia, the province where the process started, bears 10 per cent of the trial costs, plus whatever else it cost the province to appear at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
The costs were awarded because the case was of such national importance.
In weighing the argument that the prohibition on doctor-assisted death breached the two women's rights, the court found the Charter right to life doesn't require an absolute prohibition on assistance in dying.
"This would create a 'duty to live,' rather than a 'right to life,' and would call into question the legality of any consent to the withdrawal or refusal of lifesaving or life-sustaining treatment," the court wrote in the decision.
"An individual's choice about the end of her life is entitled to respect."
Doctors not forced to help
The court also found an individual's response to "a grievous and irremediable medical condition" is a matter critical to their dignity and autonomy. The law already allows palliative sedation, refusing artificial nutrition and hydration and refusing life-sustaining medical equipment.
"And, by leaving people ... to endure intolerable suffering, it impinges on their security of the person," the court wrote. Seriously? I'll need that explained to me.
Doctors, however, are by no means compelled to help patients end their lives. The court leaves that up to the professional colleges that regulate medicine.
The court agreed with the B.C. trial judge that doctors are capable of assessing the competence of patients to consent, and found there is no evidence that the elderly or people with disabilities are vulnerable to accessing doctor-assisted dying.
The Supreme Court also agreed with the lower court that the safeguards work where they've been set up in jurisdictions that allow physician-assisted suicide.
While the ruling sets out specific criteria, it leaves some questions.
The decision is silent, for example, on whether depression or mental illness counts as a medical condition. The court does include psychological pain under the criteria of enduring and intolerable suffering.
Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, who became a quadriplegic after an accident in 1996, was at the court to react early to Friday's decision.
|Dying With Dignity Supporters|
rally outside the Supreme Court
"That bill could be used as a foundation for parliamentarians going forward," he told reporters, although it's not scheduled to come up for debate any time soon and he concedes "those decisions are made at a higher pay grade than mine."
"There does need to be some Criminal Code provision, I think, to prevent abuse," he says. "I don't want people, because they have a bad hair day, to get their car mechanic to take them down."
"The vast majority of Canadians — 84 per cent — support physician-assisted death with appropriate caveats."
It's easy enough to have empathy for those terminally ill people who are suffering greatly, that's why a majority of Canadians support this. There are a few problems with it however:
1. Those 'appropriate caveats' will likely get whittled away over time once we become accustomed to euthanasia - the 'slippery slope' principle.
2. Doctors already 'assist' people dying by withholding medication that would delay the shutting down of bodily organs. Nevertheless, for doctors to now administer poison or an overdose of some medication to end someone's life is a big step. It turns the Hippocratic oath into the hippocritic oath.
3. As a Christian, I know the God has appointed the number of days we shall live. Consequently, for us to take matters into our own hands and commit suicide is to thumb our nose at the Lordship of Jesus Christ, not a good idea when we are about to head into judgment.