The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that competent adults with intolerable and “irremediable” suffering should have the right to commit suicide with the help of doctors. The Canadian high court ruled that provincial and federal lawmakers have one year to create legislation to address its ruling. Until new legislation is made, the federal ban on doctor-assisted suicide is still in effect, but if lawmakers fail to address the new ruling by establishing proper legislation within a year, doctors will be permitted to assist with suicides of suffering Canadians.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association began the fight for the rights of Canadians to receive assistance from physicians to end their lives on behalf of Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor. Both Canadian women were suffering from degenerative diseases and wanted assistance from doctors to end their suffering. Both women died before they could hear the Supreme Court of Canada rule in favor of permitting doctor-assisted suicides. The women’s legal representation argued that because the women had disabilities that made it impossible to commit suicide the way able-bodied people who are suffering can, the law against doctor-assisted suicides was discriminatory.
According to CBC News, the Supreme Court’s ruling, which was complete with all nine justices sharing writing credit, is not limited only to people who have physical disabilities. BBC News reported that the decision to permit doctor-assisted suicide was unanimous among all justices. The current law states that is is illegal to “counsel, aid or abet a suicide, and the offence [sic] carries up to 14 years in prison.” The new ruling will force lawmakers to amend the current law.
“This [current law] 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 justices wrote.
“An individual’s choice about the end of her life is entitled to respect.”
The Supreme Court of Canada said that how an individual faces an incurable and grievous condition is critical to the individual’s autonomy, and “by leaving people… to endure intolerable suffering, it impinges on their security of the person.”
Doctors will not be required to assist their patients in suicides, but if a doctor chooses to assist in a suicide, that doctor would bear the responsibility of ensuring that their patient is competent to consent and that no one is pressuring the individual to request the doctor-assisted suicide.
The Supreme Court of Canada did include psychological pain in its definition of suffering that can be considered intolerable and enduring, but according to CBC News, it is unclear if mental illness or depression would be considered a legal reason to allow doctor-assisted suicide.