Physician-assisted death in Canada: Carter v Canada (AG)


S 241 (b) of the Canadian Criminal Code declares that to aid or abet a person to commit suicide is an indictable offence, while s 14 states that no-one can consent to being killed: taken together, those provisions prohibit physician-assisted dying. On 6 February the Supreme Court of Canada handed down judgment in Carter v Canada (Attorney General) 2015 SCC 5 and, in brief, declared the blanket ban on physician-assisted death unconstitutional [4].

The appellants

In 2009 Gloria Taylor was diagnosed with a fatal neurodegenerative disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which causes progressive muscle weakness.  ALS sufferers first lose the ability to use their hands and feet, then the ability to walk, chew, swallow, speak and, eventually, breathe.  Ms Taylor did “not want to die slowly, piece by piece” [11] and  challenged the constitutionality of the provisions in the Criminal Code. She was joined in her claim by various others: Lee Carter and her husband Hollis Johnson, who had assisted Ms Carter’s mother to commit suicide by taking her to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, William Shoichet, a doctor who was willing to participate in physician‑assisted dying if it were legalised, and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
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