Canada legalises physician-assisted dying

As we noted at the time, in Carter v Canada (Attorney General) 2015 SCC 5 the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the ban under s 241 (b) and  s 14 of the Canadian Criminal Code on aiding or abetting a person to commit suicide. Rather than merely striking down the existing law, however, the Court suspended the operation of its judgment for a year in order to allow Parliament time to produce properly-considered legislation, on the grounds that “Complex regulatory regimes are better created by Parliament than by the courts” [125].

Yesterday, 17 June, the Senate passed Bill C-14: Medical Assistance in Dying and it has now received Royal Assent. The Senate had passed an amendment to include within the scope of the Bill those who were not necessarily near death but who suffered from a “grievous and irremediable medical condition”; however, the House of Commons rejected the Senate’s amendment and the Senate did not press it.

The result seems to be regarded as a compromise. Subsequently, in a joint statement Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and Dr Jane Philpott, Minister of Health, said:

“The legislation strikes the right balance between personal autonomy for those seeking access to medically assisted dying and protecting the vulnerable. It gives dying patients who are suffering intolerably while in decline on a path toward death the choice of a medically assisted death. The measures included in the legislation revise the Criminal Code to exempt health care practitioners who provide, or help to provide, medical assistance in dying from otherwise applicable criminal offences.

The legislation has been drafted to be consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and recognizes the jurisdiction of provinces and territories over the delivery of health care services.

The step that Parliament has taken in passing this legislation is an important one, but it is not the last step in this journey. Health Canada will continue to work with the provinces and territories as provisions of the legislation come into force, and further study will be done with respect to medical assistance in dying in the context of mature minors, people for whom mental illness is the sole underlying condition, and advance requests.”

Health Canada has issued a guide to the operation of the new legislation and the eligibility criteria for medical assistance in dying.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Canada legalises physician-assisted dying" in Law & Religion UK, 18 June 2016,

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