In Canada, as in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, suicide is not a crime, but assisted suicide is illegal and punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.
In her ruling, Justice Lynn Smith said the law banning doctor-assisted suicide is not in line with Canada’s constitution, and is discriminatory towards those who are grievously ill and who want control over the end of their life, but are not able to end their life without assistance.
Justice Smith has given Parliament a year to change the laws – so for now assisted suicide remains illegal in Canada. However she ruled that Gloria Taylor, a terminally ill woman who took the case, is an exception. Gloria Taylor will be permitted to have an assisted death under specific conditions including: providing a written request, her doctor attesting that she is terminally ill and near death, and documenting the medication that will be used.
This is a complex, as well as historic case – the judge’s ruling is 395 pages long and her decision is very likely to be challenged by those opposed to change. So there is some way to go before the law in Canada changes to allow assisted dying for terminally ill adults. But for now Justice Smith’s ruling marks a significant move towards dying patients in Canada having control over the manner and timing of their deaths.
In a statement after the decision was announced Gloria Taylor said: “I’m deeply grateful to have the comfort of knowing that I will have a choice at the end of my life. This is a blessing for me. . . It allows me to approach my death in the same way I’ve tried to live my life — with dignity, independence and grace.” Let us hope that in time many more dying Canadians will have this choice.