Today the law criminalizing physician-assisted suicide was
overturned in the landmark unanimous decision of Carter v.
Canada (Attorney General) ["Carter"]1.
The Supreme Court of Canada ["SCC"] sent a strong message
in support of the protection of Canadians' right to life,
liberty and security of the person (s. 7) pursuant to the
Charter of Rights and Freedom
In Canada, the Criminal Code
("Code")3 states that the aiding and
abetting of suicide is a criminal offence under s. 241(b), which
carries a maximum penalty of fourteen years in jail, and that no
person may consent to death being inflicted upon them under s. 14
of the Code. The object of this prohibition on assisted
dying is "to protect vulnerable persons from being induced to
commit suicide at a moment of weakness."4 However,
it was agreed that this prohibition, as presently worded, catches
people outside of this class of protected persons and thus
"imposes unnecessary suffering on affected
The Carter case began in 2012 when the constitutional
validity of the Code's prohibition of
physician-assisted suicide was brought before the British Columbia
Supreme Court.6 The trial judge found that the
Code violated the protected rights of the terminally ill
and that the infringement was not justified under s. 1 of the
Charter. The decision was later overturned by the B.C.
Court of Appeal. The plaintiffs were granted leave to appeal and
the case was brought before the SCC in October of 2014.
In an extensive judgment, the SCC upheld the trial judge's
decision. The SCC concluded that "the prohibition on
physician-assisted dying is void insofar as it deprives a competent
adult of such assistance where (1) the person affected clearly
consents to the termination of life; and (2) the person 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
Consequently, the law infringes upon the Charter rights
of this unintended group in a manner that is not in accordance with
the principles of fundamental justice.8
The SCC suspended its declaration of invalidity of the law for
12 months, giving Parliament an opportunity to draft new laws in
response. One source of guidance for the federal government will be
the stance on assisted suicide taken by Quebec. In 2014, Quebec
became the first province to adopt Bill 52, known as "An
Act respecting end-of-life care," which would legally
permit physicians to provide and administer medical aid in dying to
terminally ill patients.9
We will be providing a further analysis on the impact of this
important decision shortly.
1 2015 SCC 5.
2The Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B
to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11, Part I
CanadianCharter of Rights and
3 RSC, 1985, c C-46.
4Carter, supra, note 1 at para
5Ibidat para 90.
6Carter v Canada (Attorney General),
2012 BCSC 886,  BCJ No 1196 (QL).
7Carter, supranote 1 at para
8Ibidat para 126.
9 CQLR, c S-32.0001.
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