Assisted-Suicide Ban Struck Down

By Rabson, Mia | Winnipeg Free Press, February 7, 2015 | Go to article overview

Assisted-Suicide Ban Struck Down


Rabson, Mia, Winnipeg Free Press


Supreme Court justices unanimous in decision

OTTAWA -- Canadians suffering from grievous and incurable illnesses, injuries or disabilities will be able to ask their doctor to help end their lives next year after the Supreme Court of Canada on Friday struck down a blanket ban against assisted suicide.

In a unanimous 9-0 judgment, the court determined a total ban on all forms of assisted suicide is unconstitutional and unnecessary to protect vulnerable persons from being coerced to kill themselves.

"The prohibition on physician-assisted dying infringes on the right to life, liberty and security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice," the ruling states.

The court specified the circumstances where assisted suicide can take place, which include only a physician can assist, the patient must be a competent adult who clearly consents to have his or her life end and who has a "grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition."

The court did not define any specific types of illnesses or disabilities that will be affected, nor did it use the term 'suicide,' but did say the suffering can be either physical or psychological.

The decision is suspended for 12 months to give the federal and provincial governments time to rewrite their laws.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay said Friday the government is going to take that time to review the decision.

"There is a wide and obviously very emotional range of perspectives on this issue, but it has very far-reaching implications, so we intend to take the time to look at this decision carefully, thoughtfully," he said.

The Criminal Code in Canada currently states no one can consent to being killed, and anyone who assists someone else to end their life is committing an indictable offence.

MacKay and the Conservatives are facing a time crunch to address the matter. It is an election year, and if no legislation is introduced and passed by the time Parliament rises in June, it won't get introduced until after the election in October.

That would give whatever government is elected just three months to pass a new law, and normally Parliament does not sit most of December and January.

Manitoba Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, a strong proponent in the right-to-die debate, said it would be best for the government to act immediately if it doesn't want it to become an election issue. If it chooses to fight the Supreme Court, that guarantees it's an election issue, Fletcher said.

"We want to make sure that we move forward quickly but thoughtfully, and the Supreme Court I think has really given us a clear path. …

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