The big news up here was the long-awaited decision on doctor-assisted suicide. In 1993, a woman (Sue Rodriguez) with Lou Gehrig's Disease argued before the supreme court that she should be allowed to have a willing doctor help her end her life. The decision was 5-4 against her.
22 years later, the question again made it to the supreme court, and the judges unanimously upheld the right for people to have help in taking their own lives..
The B.C. court ruled at the same time that the federal government must draft new legislation within a year that conforms with Canadians' rights under the Constitution. Smith deemed the existing law unconstitutional because it unfairly deprives people with degenerative illnesses of their liberty, and because it discriminates against those with a physical disability who might need assistance to exercise their right to take their own life.
The federal government appealed the ruling, taking the battle to the B.C. Court of Appeal, which held hearings in March 2013 and overturned the lower court's ruling seven months later.
The BCCLA then asked the Supreme Court of Canada to hear an appeal of that ruling, arguing criminal laws that deny seriously ill Canadians the right to choose an assisted death are unconstitutional, and the issue is of profound national importance.
In a brief, powerful opening paragraph, the court explained why it was creating a new constitutional right to autonomy over oneâ(TM)s death in some circumstances: Those who are severely and irremediably suffering, whether physically or psychologically, "may be condemned to a life of severe and intolerable suffering" by the governmentâ(TM)s absolute ban on assisted dying. "A person facing this prospect has two options: she can take her own life prematurely, often by violent or dangerous means, or she can suffer until she dies from natural causes. The choice is cruel."
The decision was signed by The Court, which happens occasionally when the justices wish to lend their decisions extra weight. The nine judges, who range in age from mid-50s to 74, dismissed the notion that competent adults cannot consent to their death. "We do not agree that the existential formulation of the right to life requires an absolute prohibition on assistance in dying, or that individuals cannot 'waive' their right to life. This would create a 'duty to live,'"" the ruling says.
Interestingly enough, the court went even further
"The prohibition on physician-assisted dying infringes on the right to life, liberty and security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice," the nine justices flatly asserted.
The judgment -- left unsigned to reflect the unanimous institutional weight of the court -- gives Parliament a year to draft new legislation that recognizes the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help in ending their lives.
It does not limit physician-assisted death to those suffering a terminal illness
Two decades ago, the court was concerned that vulnerable persons could not be properly protected under physician-assisted suicide, even though courts recognized the existing law infringed a person's rights.
But the experience of existing jurisdictions that permit doctor-assisted dying compelled the courts to examine the record.
"An individual's response to a grievous and irremediable medical condition is a matter critical to their dignity and autonomy," says the judgment.
"The law allows people in this situation to request palliative sedation, refuse artificial nutrition and hydration, or request the removal of life-sustaining medical equipment, but denies the right to request a physician's assistance in dying."
The 69-page judgment avoids the term "suicide" throughout, using instead the less morally freighted "death" and "dying."
The court also weighed in on the "existential formulation" of right to life, which it said is not the same as a "duty to live." Imposing a duty to live, said the court, "would call into question the legality of any consent to the withdrawal or refusal of lifesaving or life-sustaining treatment."
So there you have it - anyone who is subject to extreme and non-remedial suffering (physical or mental) has the right to have a doctor help them to die.
For those who want to read the actual judgment, here you go