Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Supreme Court Agrees to Extend Deadline for Right-to-Die Law, Includes Exemption

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Supreme Court Agrees to Extend Deadline for Right-to-Die Law, Includes Exemption

Article excerpt

Death deadline extended, exemptions allowed


OTTAWA - The Supreme Court has added four months to the federal government's deadline for producing a new law on doctor-assisted death -- but with an exemption for anyone who wants to ask a judge to end their life earlier.

The Liberal government had argued that it needed the original Feb. 6 deadline extended by six months in order to have the time to craft a proper law. Opponents said that would simply prolong the suffering of many.

"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," the court wrote in a narrow 5-4 decision on the extension application.

"An exemption can mitigate the severe harm that may be occasioned to those adults who have a grievous, intolerable and irremediable medical condition by making a remedy available now, pending Parliament's response."

In a landmark decision last winter, the high court recognized the right of consenting adults enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to end their lives with a doctor's help.

It suspended its decision for a year to give Parliament a chance to figure out how to respond. Today's extension also excludes Quebec, which already has its own law.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould issued a statement saying the government respects the court's judgement in only providing a four month extension saying the government "remains committed to developing a thoughtful, compassionate, and well-informed response to the Supreme Court's ruling."

Grace Pastine, the litigation director for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, called Friday's news a "tremendous victory" for compassion and choice at the end of life.

"In terms of the personal exemptions, what the court determined was that those individuals should be able to make personal applications to a court to make their right a reality," said Pastine, whose group is at the heart of the application.

"It is really difficult to overstate just how important and how meaningful that will be for Canadians who are suffering unbearably."

Still, the divisive issue proved no less so for the court's nine-judge panel. Justices Rosalie Abella, Andromache Karakatsanis, Richard Wagner, Clement Gascon and Suzanne Cote made up the majority.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and Justices Thomas Cromwell, Michael Moldaver and Russell Brown dissented in part.

The dissenters said they would not have exempted Quebec from the extension, nor would they have allowed exemptions for individuals seeking to end their lives during that period.

"We do not underestimate the agony of those who continue to be denied access to the help that they need to end their suffering," they wrote.

"That should be clear from the court's reasons for judgment on the merits. …

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