A 25 year struggle to legalize
Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) in Canada.
PAS quotations. Overview. Court
Supreme Court legalizes PAS.
First terminally ill people obtain PAS.
Court clears up confusion.
Some quotations involving "PAS" in Canada:
- The goals of the Right to Die Society of Canada.:
"Euthanasia and assisted suicide are covert and
unregulated in the Canada of today. Also, their accessibility has more
to do with 'connections' than with need. They must become available
within an open, regulated and equitable system. People
who are suffering intolerably from an incurable condition must have an
adequate level of information and support with respect to every one of
their options -- including, though not limited to, the option of a
hastened death." 1
- Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention
"The nature of assisted suicide does not allow
you to provide protection for vulnerable people. The whole idea is wrong
from the beginning. Assisted suicide is a direct threat to those with
chronic disabilities and the elderly.....It's an issue of the powerful
over the weak. We can't bring in a law that allows you to kill someone." 2
- MP Francine Lalonde, (Member of the federal Parliament) shortly after introducing Bill C-407 in mid-2015 to legalize PAS in Canada:
"This is not euthanasia. This is the right to die with dignity for the person." 2
- Section 2282 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law. Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide." 6
- Sue Rodriguez, 45, who suffered from ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig Disease). During 1991:
catapulted the right to die debate onto the public stage."
Referring to herself, she asked a simple question during the early 1990's that is at the heart of the PAS controversy everywhere. Her question is still being quoted twenty-five years later in the mid 2010's:
"If I cannot give consent to my own death, whose body is this? Who owns my life? 3,7
Overview of PAS as of early 2016:
Suicide was decriminalized in Canada in 1972. As in many other countries, suicide was legal throughout the entire country, but only if a person can carry out the act by themselves without help from other person(s). Obtaining assistance to commit suicide had been specifically criminalized under section 241(b) of the Criminal Code of Canada and has sometimes resulted in a lengthy jail sentence to the helper.
Unlike the U.S., where such laws are a state responsibility, the Criminal Code is a federal law in Canada. Thus, Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) has been a criminal act in every province and territory. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that it is to be made legal and has given Canada's Parliament a deadline, which it later extended, to bring in new legislation to legalize and control it.
The first high-profile assisted suicide court case occurred in 1992. It involved Sue Rodriguez, (1950-1994), a mother suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (a.k.a. ALS. or Lou Gehrig's disease). She filed a lawsuit in the British Columbia Supreme Court that challenged the constitutionality of Section 241(b) of the Criminal Code. She lost and appealed to the B.C. Court of Appeal where she lost again by a vote of 2 to 1. Her case finally reached the Supreme Court of Canada, which rejected her petition by a vote of 5 to 4. She responded: "So close!" when she heard the results. She committed suicide during 1994 in the presence of -- but apparently without the active help of --an unidentified physician and Svend Robinson, her personal friend and a Member of Parliament (MP) from the New Democratic Party (NDP).
The second high-profile case, Carter v. Canada, reached the high court almost two decades later. On 2015-FEB-06, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Section 241(b) of the Criminal Code of Canada violates the Constitution. The Justices unanimously voted to reversed the ruling that they issued two decades earlier. They struck down the ban on physician assisted suicide (PAS). However, they suspended their decision for 12 months and gave the Government of Canada until 2016-FEB-06 to pass new legislation that would implement and control PAS. This deadline was extended by four months until 2016-JUN-06 as a result of a government request made necessary by a federal election during the fall of 2016.
A new law "... to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying) S.C. 2016, c. 3" was passed by Parliament and became law on 2016-JUN-17.
Current status of PAS as of early 2016:
PAS remains a criminal act in Canada untill the government's new laws come into effect. However, the High Court also ruled that as an interim measure, provincial courts can now approve individual requests for PAS until the new federal law comes into effect.
As of 2016-MAR-04:
- A law regulating medical aid in dying (MAID) is in place in Quebec.
- An unidentified woman in Alberta had obtained permission from a provincial court for MAID.
- An unidentified man in Ontario had obtained permission from his provincial court.
- About two dozen individuals in Quebec had legally died with the assistance of their physician.
Topics covered in this section:
- Public opinion polls on assisted suicide
- 1995-2010: Parliamentary activity
- An essay donated by David Estill: Canadian Legislation and Euthanasia: Can Society Tell Us How to Die?
- A glossary of medical terms & works cited
- 2011 to 2016: Reactivating Sue Rodriguez' original fight:
A new, ultimately successful, lawsuit is launched, "Carter v. Canada:"
- Part 1: 2011-NOV: A new lawsuit is filed, Carter v. Canada, to reactive Sue Rodriguez' original fight.
- Part 2: 2011-NOV: The lawsuit Carter v. Canada is filed.
- Part 3: 2011-NOV: Carter v. Canada case heard
by the Supreme Court of British Columbia. 2012-JUN: Court's ruling issued,
supporting access to assisted suicide.
- Part 4: 2012-JUL: Lawsuit appealed to the British Columbia Court of Appeal. 2013-MAR: Hearings held.
- Part 5: 2013-MAR: Excerpts from two factums (written arguments) by intervenors at the B.C. Court of Appeal.
- Part 6: 2013-MAR: Excerpts from the factum of a third intervenor. Two videos.
- Part 7: 2013-OCT-10: The Court of Appeal's ruling. Reasons for the decision.
- Part 8: 2013-OCT: The case is appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. 2014-JAN-16: The Supreme Court of Canada accepts the appeal. TV video. Two news releases by opposing sides.
- Part 9: 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 delay.
A shorter delay was granted.
- Part 10: 2016-JAN: The Supreme Court of Canada grants a four month delay in implementing "Carter." Public opinion poll on PAS. Federal government committee issues recommendations.
- Part 11: 2016-FEB: Federal Government committee issues 70 page report (Continued).
Contents of the report. Reactions.
- Part 12: 2016-FEB/MAR: More reactions to the federal Government report on PAS.
Terminally ill woman in Alberta
receives court permission for PAS. TV video on PAS.
- Part 13: 2016-MAR: Public opinion poll on PAS. Responses. Terminally ill man in Ontario applied to court for assistance in dying.
- Part 14: 2016-MAR: Terminally ill man in Ontario was granted assistance in dying. Parliament passes a law to legalize PAS. Ontario court case clears up ambiguity in the MAID law.
- 1992 to 2016: Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) in Quebec.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- The Right-To-Die Society of Canada's web page is at: http://www.righttodie.ca/
- Deborah Gyapong, "Bloc MP tables 'die with dignity' Bill C-407," Canadian Catholic News, at:
- "Sue Rodriguez and the Right-to-Die debate," CBC Archives, at:
- Sue Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General) (1993) 3 SCR 519.
- J.V. Lavery & P.A. Singer, "The 'Supremes' decide on assisted suicide:
What should a doctor do?," Canadian Medical Association Journal, (1997)
157:405-6. Online at:
- "Catechism of the Catholic Church: Part 3, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article 5: The Fifth Commandment," The Vatican, undated, at: http://www.vatican.va/
- " 'Who owns my life?': Sue Rodriguez changed how we think," The Windsor Star, 2013-SEP-28, at: http://windsorstar.com/
- "Carter v Canada *AG)," Wikipedia, as on 2016-FEB-29, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
- "An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying)
S.C. 2016, c. 3," Justice Laws Website, 2017-JUN-16, at: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/
Copyright © 1999 to 2017, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2017-JUN-22
Author: B.A. Robinson