As of February, 6th 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada has overturned its 1993 ban on physician-assisted suicide, ruling that it will now allow medical professionals to help patients with terminal illnesses who want to die. The decision was reached in a unanimous nine-to-zero ruling. The ruling came about because the court determined that the previous ban violated the section of Canada’s Constitution which protects life, liberty, and security.
Grace Pastine, the Litigation Director for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association praised the decision made by Canada’s Supreme Court. She made a statement saying, “Physician-assisted dying is now recognised for what it is – a medical service that brings an end, for some individuals, to unbearable suffering.”
It will take the decision about one year to be implemented, but the ruling can be seen as a win for those in favor of assisted suicide policies. The Canadian Parliament has twelve months to write up a new law. According to the charter, physician-assisted suicide would be allowed if the patient “clearly consents to the termination of life [and] has a grievous and irremediable medical condition… that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”
At present, doctor-assisted suicide is legal in Japan, Switzerland, Albania, Germany, and Colombia. In America, it is lawful in five states including New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont.
Rulings like the one in Canada that allow doctor-assisted suicide are frequently controversial. Some believe that the right to die should be a fundamental human right, others see ethical issues surrounding the implications that it might have for the vulnerable or for the disabled. On Friday, the court’s reversal of the previous ban was said to have been opposed to by Canadian religious groups.
This Supreme Court case (Carter v. Canada) was prompted by the Carter and Taylor families, relatives of two British Columbian women with terminal illnesses. Kay Carter had spinal stenosis which caused her to have chronic pain and almost no mobility. Because Carter was not allowed assisted-suicide where she lived, she travel to Switzerland where a doctor helped her to end her life in 2010. Gloria Taylor had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS), a fatal neurodegenerative disease marked by the deterioration of motor neurons. She passed away in 2012 before the court made its decision.
The United States has seen similar cases brought to the attention of the American public. In 2014, a woman named Brittany Maynard who had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer had to leave her California home in order to seek physician-assisted suicide because the practice was illegal within her home state. She went to Oregon where a doctor gave her lethal medication which allowed her to end her life November 1, 2014.
When seeking a physician’s help in ending his or her life, a patient usually requests to be taken off of life-sustaining medical devices and/or be given specific prescription medications. The medication is usually in the form of a pill or pills which are then taken at a time the patient deems appropriate. Now that Canada has made a landmark ruling which allows physician-assisted suicide, many patients will be able to receive the desired procedure as soon as the legislation is implemented.
by Emilee Prado
Photo by Robert Linsdell – Flickr License