In a unanimous, landmark decision, the Supreme Court of Canada has overturned the criminal laws prohibiting doctor-assisted suicide.
Until now, it has been a crime in Canada to assist another person to end his or her own life. As a result, people who are terminally ill or severely disabled have not been able to seek medical assistance in dying and many suffer lives of severe and intolerable suffering.
The question asked at the Supreme Court of Canada was whether the criminal laws against doctor-assisted suicide violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which gives every person the right to “life, liberty and security of the person”. The answer to this question requires a balancing of the autonomy and dignity of the person, on the one hand, and the sanctity of life and need to protect the vulnerable, on the other.
The Supreme Court decided the criminal laws against doctor-assisted suicide do in fact violate the rights of competent adults who are suffering intolerably as a result of a “grievous and irremediable medical condition”. The Court further concluded that a properly administered regulatory regime will provide the necessary safeguards to protect the vulnerable from abuse and error.
The Supreme Court concluded doctor-assisted suicides may be permitted where a competent adult 1) clearly consents to the termination of life; and 2) the person has a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances. The Court has given Parliament one year to enact new laws to reflect this decision.