Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) in
Canada: the Carter v. Canada lawsuit
Part 9 of thirteen parts
2015-FEB: The Supreme Court of Canada
issues its ruling in Carter v. Canada.
Reactions to the Court decision.
2015-DEC: Federal government asks for
A shorter delay was granted.
2015-FEB-06: The Supreme Court of Canada issued its ruling in Carter v. Canada.
All nine Justices on the High Court agreed that section 241-b of the Criminal Code of Canada violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada's constitution. That section criminalized assisted suicides.
The court ruling stated that physician assisted suicide is permissible if it involves:
"... 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."
Thus, it is left up to the suffering individual to define when their condition has become intolerable to the point that they can request and receive assistance in dying.
The court gave the Federal Parliament twelve months to pass legislation to make assisted suicide available to Canadians. That target was set up to expire on 2016-FEB-06.
2015-FEB: Reactions to the High Court ruling:
- The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), who filed "Carter," reacted to the ruling by the High Court by saying:
"In a unanimous decision, Canada’s highest court affirmed that the criminal prohibition against physician assisted dying is an infringement on the Charter rights of Canadians. The Supreme Court allowed Parliament and the provincial legislatures 12 months to enact new legislation that upholds these fundamental human rights. ..."
"We did it!" 1
- Bruce J. Clemenger is the president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The EFC is a conservative Christian group that opposes various liberal/equality causes in Canada on religious grounds, like physician assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, etc. He issued a statement that disapproves of the High Court's decision, saying:
"As Evangelicals, we believe that life is a gift from God which should be respected and protected through all its stages. Each human life has inherent worth, regardless of age or physical, mental or other abilities. Care for the sick and the elderly is part of God’s call for Christians. We must not abandon those in need, and we must not deliberately bring about their death.
As Christians, we affirm the sanctity of human life. We agreed with the [federal] government who argued in this case that the prohibition against assisted suicide was to preserve life and protect the vulnerable. The Supreme Court also affirms the sanctity of human life, calling it 'one of our most important fundamental societal values.' On this basis the Supreme Court had previously upheld the ban on assisted suicide and euthanasia."
"With a federal election scheduled within the 12-month deadline, we urge the government to move quickly to design and implement stringent safeguards to ensure the practice of physician-assisted death is rare, and to ensure that good quality palliative care is available to all who require it. As Canadians, we need to ensure that those suffering are comforted and cared for, and that no one will come to the place where they would be so desperate as to choose to die." 2
2015-DEC-03: The Federal Government requested a delay in the implementation of a assisted suicide law:
The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, who is both the federal Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, asked the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of the new Liberal government for a six month delay of the 2016-FEB-06 deadline. This was the date by which the Court required the government to have the new federal assisted suicide law written, passed, signed into law, and made effective. If approved by the Court, the new target for the law to become effective would be 2016-AUG-06.
The government news release stated:
"Canadians have made it clear that they are looking for a real conversation about personal choice, health care and end-of-life-care, and strong protection of the vulnerable. This brief extension, to August 6, 2016, is necessary to ensure that the federal government and the provinces and territories also have the necessary time to continue the good work that is under way and responsibly prepare for the full implementation of the Carter decision.
Following through on its commitment to Canadians, the Government will establish an all-party special parliamentary committee to make recommendations on a federal government response.
While it is true that an extension of the suspension will mean that some Canadians will have to wait to access physician-assisted dying, it is necessary - and responsible - to ensure that sufficient protections are in place across the entire country."
This delay will mean six more months of pain and misery for many Canadians who are living in an intolerable situation. They are anxious to obtain help to have "Death with Dignity," but have been prevented from gaining access to assistance from their physician. 4
It is unclear why the new law could not have been created and made effective within the twelve month interval assigned by the Supreme Court between 2015-FEB and 2016-FEB. Some reasons might have been that:
- The Conservative Party of Canada controlled government activities through much of this interval. The party has always been opposed to assisted suicide. Their heart may not have been in the task of crafting a more liberal PAS law.
- Parliament was dissolved on 2015-AUG-02, to prepare for federal elections on 2015-OCT-19. The public vote replaced the previous Conservative government with a new Liberal government. Parliament did not officially resumed activity until 2015-DEC-03.
2016-JAN-15: The Supreme Court of Canada permits a shorter delay than the one requested:
The Court unanimously agreed to a delay in the deadline by which an assisted suicide law is to be in place. The federal government had asked for a six month delay; the Court allowed a four month interval. The new target to approve a new PAS law and have it effective is 2016-JUN-06.
The Justices also ruled that the new assisted suicide law which came into effect in Quebec can remain in place.
By a 5 to 4 decision, the High Court ruled that Canadians who live outside of Quebec can individually apply to a Superior Court in their province for authorization of an assisted suicide until the new law comes into effect.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Carter v. Canada," British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, 2016, at: https://bccla.org/
- Bruce J. Clemenger, "Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: Where Do We Go From Here? Reflections on the Carter v. Canada decision," The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, 2015-FEB-10, at: http://www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/
- "Eight in Ten (80%) Canadians Support Advance Consent to Physician-Assisted Dying," Ipsos Reid, 2016-FEB-11, at: http://www.ipsos-na.com/
- "News Release: Physician-assisted dying: Request to Supreme Court of Canada to extend time for federal, provincial and territorial response," Department of Justice, Government of Canada, 2015-DEC-03, at: http://news.gc.ca/
- "Supreme Court gives federal government 4-month extension to pass assisted dying law. Original deadline to pass assisted dying law was Feb. 6," CBC News, 2016-JAN-15, at: http://www.cbc.ca/
- "Canadian bishops blast Parliamentary report’s embrace of 'state-sponsored killing'," LifeSiteNews.com, 2016-FEB-29, at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/
- Ian " Macleod, "Doctor-assisted death report called ‘radical and dangerous’ by some Conservative committee members," Ottawa Citizen, 2016-FEB-26. at: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/
Copyright © 2016, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2016-FEB-29
Latest update: 2016-MAR-02
Author: B.A. Robinson