Fundamental Changes to Assisted Suicide in Canada: Carter v. Canada, 2015 SCC 5

February 9, 2015 Hull & Hull LLP Estate Planning, In the News 0 Comments

The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously struck down s. 241(b) of the Criminal Code, which imposes a legal ban on doctor-assisted suicide in Canada.

On February 6, 2015, the SCC released its decision in Carter v. Canada, finding that doctors should be allowed to assist patients hasten death in certain circumstances; namely, situations in which competent adults with enduring and intolerable suffering clearly consent to ending their lives.

However, the ruling will not have immediate effect. The court has given the federal and provincial governments 12 months to implement legislation in response to the ruling. As such, s 241(b) and the ban on doctor-assisted suicide will stand until February 6, 2016.

Significant changes

This is not the first time the issue of doctor-assisted suicide has come before the SCC. In the 1993 case of Rodriguez v. British Columbia (“Rodriguez”) the court refused to allow doctor-assisted suicide due to concerns that vulnerable persons could not adequately be protected.

Since 1993, several jurisdictions have successfully implemented doctor-assisted suicide demonstrating that the rights of vulnerable individuals can be properly safeguarded with proper regulation.  As a result, doctor-assisted suicide is now available in 8 countries including, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Japan and the U.S. states of Washington and Oregon.

The decision also reflects the  fundamental shifts in public opinion that have occurred since 1993. A recent poll conducted by Ipos Reid indicates that 84% of Canadians are in support of doctor-assisted suicide.

The CBC recently published a timeline which specifically outlines the legal and societal developments that have occurred in relation to doctor-assisted suicide in Canada, which can be viewed here.

Impact on estate planning

The changes pose novel considerations for estate practitioners and individuals undertaking end of life planning.  As only competent individuals may consent to such treatment, Powers of Attorney for Personal Care may now need to include, or be updated to include, a provision relating to assisted suicide.

Paul Trudelle has previously blogged on some additional estate planning considerations relating doctor-assisted suicide including the impact such an election could have on life insurance.  He notes that most life insurance policies have a contestability clause that provides insurance proceeds will not be paid out if the policy holder commits suicide within two years. Thus, an insurer may be entitled to withhold the proceeds of a policyin the case of assisted suicide.

Thank you for reading,

Ian Hull

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