On February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) declared
in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) that
two Criminal Code provisions were of no force or effect to
the extent that they prohibit physician-assisted death in Canada in
the case of 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.
To provide time for a legislative and regulatory response to the
judgment, the declaration of invalidity was suspended for 12
months. On January 15, 2016, the SCC granted a further four-month extension of
the suspension of the SCC's declaration. This will begin on
February 6, 2016, the date the suspension was set to expire.
In Carter, the SCC declared that section 241(b) of the
Criminal Code, which provides that everyone who aids or
abets a person to commit suicide is guilty of an indictable offence
and section 14, which states that no person may consent to having
death inflicted on them violated the Charter of Rights
and Freedoms (Charter). These provisions violated the
Charter insofar as they prohibited physician-assisted
death for certain individuals (who meet the abovementioned
criteria) from seeking such assistance. The prohibition was found
to deprive these individuals of their section 7 Charter
rights to life, liberty and security of the person. Further, this
was not in accordance with the principles of fundamental
The SCC considered the following three questions when deciding
to grant the suspension of the declaration of invalidity:
1) Should the Court order an extension of the suspension of the
declaration of invalidity?
Yes. The federal election which interrupted the legislative
response to the Carter decision for four months justifies
granting a four month extension.
2) Should Québec be exempted from the extension?
Yes. Québec should be exempted. The Attorney General of
Québec argued that this was necessary to clarify
Québec's legal position under its new law governing
end-of-life assistance, An Act respecting end-of-life care, CQLR, c.
S-32.0001, which came into force on December 10, 2015 and
to avoid a chilling effect due to the threat of possible
Criminal Code violations or civil liability during the
extension. The SCC was clear that in granting this exemption, they
were not expressing any view as to the validity of the
3) Should individual exemptions be granted to those who meet
the criteria set out in Carter and wish to seek assistance
in ending their life?
Yes. Individuals who wish to seek assistance from a physician in
accordance with the criteria set out in Carter may apply
to the superior court of their jurisdiction and obtain judicial
authorization to seek assistance in ending their life.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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