Top court says Canadians have right to die, strikes down ban

Fri Feb 6, 2015 2:28pm EST
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Supreme Court of Canada overturned a ban on physician-assisted suicide on Friday, unanimously reversing a decision it made in 1993 and putting Canada in the company of a handful of Western countries to make it legal.

The top court said mentally competent, consenting adults who have intolerable physical or psychological suffering from a severe and incurable medical condition have the right to a doctor's help to die. The illness does not have to be terminal. The decision takes effect in 12 months.

"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," the court said.

Friday's decision rejected the argument by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government that the ban should remain intact. The case related to two women with debilitating illnesses who have since died.

Gloria Taylor, an activist who had a neuro-degenerative disease, joined the right to die lawsuit in 2011 and died of her illness in 2012.

The family of a second woman, Kay Carter, who traveled to Switzerland to end her life, was also a plaintiff. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, along with Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and a handful of U.S. states.


Lee Carter (L) embraces her husband Hollis Johnson while speaking to journalists at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa February 6, 2015. Carter's mother, Kay Carter, traveled to Switzerland to end her life in 2010. REUTERS/Chris Wattie