Physician Assisted Death in Canada: An Update
On February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) released its decision in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), declaring that ss. 241(b) and 14 of the Criminal Code violated the s. 7 Charter rights of competent adults suffering from intolerable and irremediable medical conditions. Parliament was given a one-year deadline to create and adopt an appropriate remedy, if any. With the one-year deadline set to expire, the Attorney General of Canada applied for a six-month extension of the SCC’s suspension of its declaration.
On January 15, 2016, the SCC unanimously granted the Federal government an extension of four months instead of the six months sought. The extension was granted on the basis that the legislative work required to remedy the Charter infringement was reasonably delayed in light of Parliament being dissolved in mid-2015 for the federal election.
In granting the four-month extension, the SCC (in a split decision) held that the extension should not serve to unfairly prolong the suffering of individuals who clearly meet the criteria set out in paragraph 127 of the Carter decision. Accordingly, during the four-month extension period, any competent adult person who: (i) consents to the termination of life and has a grievous and (ii) irremediable medical condition that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to that person may apply to the Superior Court of Justice in their jurisdiction for an exemption.
The Attorney General of Quebec also sought an exemption from the four-month extension in light of the enactment of the Act Respecting End of Life Care (the “ARELC”), which came into force in Quebec on December 10, 2015. The Court granted the exemption with a caveat that its decision should not be taken as commenting on the validity of the ARELC.
The take away from this recent decision is that physician-assisted death in Canada is legal in all Canadian jurisdictions, outside of Quebec, with the prior approval of a Superior Court Judge.
Here is a link to the SCC’s decision
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