Canada's Supreme Court Tentatively Green Lights Physician Assisted Suicide, But Gives Government Extension To Produce Legislation Governing Practice

Janice Malcolm

On Friday, the Supreme Court in Canada gave an official ruling to allow doctor assisted suicide under certain specific circumstances across the country and in a vote of five to four, it also granted the government four months to pass a law that would govern doctors taking part in the practice.

A ban on the highly controversial practice of physician-assisted suicide had been overturned by the Supreme court last year February and Canada joined a few other countries in the Western hemisphere to actually make it legal. However, it was not to be fully legalized for a year, to give the time needed to draft legislation to govern the new law. Fridays's decision came after officials had a confirmed case of physician assisted suicide in the French-speaking province of Quebec. Quebec's assisted dying law came into effect in December and the courts ruled to uphold that as well.

However, according to The Chronicle Herald the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia released the first draft of the legislation to govern the practice on the exact same day as the court's decision. While the court awaited the government's draft, the specifics outlining an exemption meant that persons who wanted the assistance with dying could submit a formal application and be considered. Dr. Gus Grant, registrar and CEO of the college asked willing doctors to be ready to provide the service. Grant says that he has heard an enormous amount of pleas from patients for physician assisted suicide and while they wait for the government the draft that the college provided can be an outline.

"I have emails from patients saying, 'I've waited years for this, I'm suffering, please help me access this right.' And so this document, in the absence of any intervention by government or governments, will provide guidance to physicians and to patients as to how to access this right."
"In agreeing that more time is needed, we do not at the same time see any need to unfairly prolong the suffering of those who meet the clear criteria we set out."

Advocacy groups have expressed their disappointment in the delay of the law passing through all of Canada and the extension given to the government. In a statement, it has been noted that by the end of the four months they will accept "nothing less than a framework for assisted dying that serves patients' needs, not those of politicians."

[Photo via Art Babych/Shutterstock]