Today the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in favour of allowing medical assistance to die, arguing that Canadian citizens have a constitutional right to control their death.
The ruling will force the Federal Government of Canada to address the issue of assisted dying, setting out relevant criteria and safeguards. The nine judges on the court unanimously agreed that someone with a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” should be allowed assistance to die and so the ban was overturned. It has given the Canadian Government twelve months to draft a new law.
There has been growing support for assisted dying in Canada. A poll released last year found that 82% of Canadians supported medical assistance to die for people with terminal illnesses. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) went through a “sea change” according to its President Dr Chris Simpson, after engaging with patients and doctors across the country, which caused the CMA to move to a neutral position on assisted dying.
The events in Canada closely mirror those in the United Kingdom. In June last year the Supreme Court issued Parliament with a final warning when Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, said that if Parliament did not satisfactorily address the issue of assisted dying then there is a possibility that the courts will have to rule instead. Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill was introduced in the House of Lords, and last month, during a Committee of the Whole House, two wrecking amendments were defeated by a majority of 2:1 clearly indicating that a majority of the House of Lords now support a change in the law.
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:
“Britain is not alone in questioning why dying people should have to suffer against their wishes at the end of life. Oregon, Washington and Vermont in the United States already have assisted dying laws in place, and there is a concerted effort in other states to follow suit. Now Canada’s Supreme Court, after looking at the evidence, has ruled that people should be able to have the choice and control over their death.
“In light of two votes last month in the UK House of Lords which show that a majority of Peers now support change, it is imperative that the Government that takes power in May allows sufficient Parliamentary time in both Houses of Parliament to reach resolution on this crucial issue. A failure to do so is likely to see a similar legal victory in our own Supreme Court as we have today witnessed in Canada.
“We know that one Briton a fortnight is travelling abroad to die and that Britons make up the second highest nationality of people who choose to die at Dignitas. For every person that goes abroad, a further ten end their lives here in the UK. We can no longer allow this suffering to continue and simply outsource the problem to another country. People should be given the right to choose the manner and timing of their own death in Britain, with upfront safeguards set by our own Parliament.”
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Supreme Court of Canada case:
The Supreme Court of Canada issued the following declaration, which is suspended for 12 months:
Section 241 (b) and s. 14 of the Criminal Code unjustifiably infringe s. 7 of the Charter and are of no force or effect to the extent that they prohibit physician-assisted death for a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.
The full judgement is available here.
About Dignity in Dying:
Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high quality end-of-life care.
Dignity in Dying has over 25,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.