“An individual’s choice about the end of their life is entitled to respect,” said the court in its ruling. The country’s ban on assisted suicide, the court said, actually infringed on a person’s right to life because “it has the effect of forcing some individuals to take their own lives prematurely, for fear that they would be incapable of doing so when they reached the point where suffering was intolerable.”
Proponents of lifting the ban argued as much, telling the court that it trapped individuals in a “terrible dying process.”
Before the ruling, a health professional who helped a patient die could face up to 14 years in prison.
The court’s decision applies to persons who are mentally competent to consent, and not just limited to those who are dependent on medical care to remain alive.
“We’re completely overjoyed that these years of hard work have culminated in what will be an enduring legacy for all Canadians and an enduring victory for human rights,” said Grace Pastine, litigation director for the Civil Liberties Association of British Columbia, the group that brought the case before the court. “It really illustrated the extent to which these laws, as an absolute ban (on physician-assisted suicide), are not fulfilling their function,” she told the Guardian newspaper.
The case to overturn the ban on assisted suicide in Canada began 20 years ago when two women – both of whom have since died – with terminal illnesses sought to end their lives. One of them went to Switzerland in 2010 to legally end her life there.
Canada’s federal and provincial governments have a year to develop legislation that reflects the court’s latest ruling.