Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The Canadian Supreme Court unanimously ruled to legalize physician-assisted suicide on Friday. (Photo: Obert Madondo/flickr/cc)

In Landmark Ruling, Canada to Allow Assisted Suicide

'I do not want to die slowly, piece by piece. I do not want to waste away unconscious in a hospital bed. I do not want to die wracked with pain.'

Nadia Prupis

The Canadian Supreme Court ruled on Friday that adults of sound mind who are suffering intolerably, physically or psychologically, have the right to die by physician-assisted suicide.

In its unanimous ruling on Carter v. Canada, the court found that Canada's ban on assisted suicide "infringes the right to life, liberty and security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice." Doctors have the ability to address whether a patient is mentally competent and capable of consent, and whether their condition is intolerable or can be abated, the decision stated.

The ruling is suspended for 12 months to give the federal government, provincial legislatures, and medical agencies time to draft new laws. Doctors who are unwilling to take part in the procedure will not be forced to comply.

"An individual’s response to a grievous and irremediable medical condition is a matter critical to their dignity and autonomy," the court stated in its decision. "The prohibition denies people in this situation the right to make decisions concerning their bodily integrity and medical care and thus trenches on their liberty. And by leaving them to endure intolerable suffering, it impinges on their security of the person."

Affidavits from the case told the experiences of people who found themselves quickly succumbing to painful degenerative diseases like Huntington's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

One witness, Gloria Taylor, who was wheelchair-bound and in constant pain within a year of being diagnosed with ALS, wrote a letter to the British Columbia Supreme Court in 2010 challenging the then-constitutional ban on physician-assisted suicide.

"My present quality of life is impaired by the fact that I am unable to say for certain that I will have the right to ask for physician-assisted dying when that 'enough is enough' moment arrives," Taylor wrote. "What I fear is a death that negates, as opposed to concludes, my life."

She concluded: "I do not want to die slowly, piece by piece. I do not want to waste away unconscious in a hospital bed. I do not want to die wracked with pain."

Taylor died of an infection in 2012.

One appellant in the case, Lee Carter, was forced to take her 89-year-old mother Kathleen to Switzerland, where physician-assisted suicide is legal, to help her die with dignity in the throes of a degenerative spinal disease.

The Supreme Court's decision on Friday means Canadians "have a choice to die with dignity in our own country, surrounded by friends and family," Carter told the Daily Globe and Mail, adding that the ruling honored her mother's memory. "We were elated. She got what she wanted."

Grace Pastine of British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, which brought the case, said Friday was "one incredible day."

"Physician-assisted dying is now recognized for what it is—a medical service that brings an end, for some individuals, to unbearable suffering," Pastine said.

Wanda Morris, CEO of Toronto-based right-to-death nonprofit Dying With Dignity, thanked the plaintiffs who filed the case and the physicians "who had the courage to go against their profession and stand up."

"I am so pleased that today the courts have dragged our laws into line with the values of Canadians, those values of compassion and autonomy we hold so dear," she said.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Climate Clock' Shows Rich Nations Still Owe $90 Billion a Year to Global Green Fund

"Wealthy nations must live up to their promise made twelve years ago and put their money where their mouths are," said an Oxfam climate expert. "We need to see real funding increases now."

Jake Johnson ·


Democrats Urged to 'Ignore' Parliamentarian's Advice Against Path to Citizenship

"Ignore this ruling or get a new one. The GOP didn't hesitate when they pushed their corporate agenda."

Jake Johnson ·


Sanders, Top Dems Optimistic Party Will 'Come Together' for Reconciliation Package

However, House leaders warn they may miss a September 27 deadline to consider Senate-approved infrastructure legislation that progressives will only support alongside a $3.5 trillion bill.

Jessica Corbett ·


Report on Revolving Door and Tax Policy Sparks Calls for Federal Probe and Reforms

"This is an example of terrible management in the Treasury Department across multiple administrations."

Jessica Corbett ·


Nabisco Strike Ends After Union Members Approve New Contract

"Congratulations to these brave workers on their wins," said one labor writer. "May their determination and grit be an inspiration for workers everywhere."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo