Supreme Court schedules hearing on federal government's extension request

The Supreme Court has agreed to hold a hearing on the federal government’s request to delay the decriminalization of the Supreme Court’s ruling on physician assisted dying.

Scheduled for January 11, the session will take place less than a month before the high court’s decision in Carter v. Canada is set to come into effect.

In early December, the federal government asked the Supreme Court to delay the implementation of its ruling, which strikes down the Criminal Code ban on physician assisted dying. When the high court issued its decision on Feb. 6, 2015, it stayed the ruling for a period of 12 months in order to give elected officials and regulators time to adopt new rules.

One month after assuming power, the Liberal government asked the Supreme Court to delay the implementation of its ruling by a period of six months. In a submission to the court, the government said it wants more time in order to develop “a thoughtful, sensitive and well-informed response.”

Extension is unnecessary

Dying With Dignity Canada has spoken out repeatedly against an extension, arguing it is unnecessary as well as cruel to patients who can’t wait any longer to access their hard-won right to a peaceful death.

“The government should be applauded for wanting to craft thoughtful legislation on assisted dying,” DWDC CEO Wanda Morris said earlier in December. “But they can do so without trampling on patients’ rights any longer.”

An extension is unnecessary, she said,  because the decision doesn't require Ottawa or the provinces to pass new legislation. In addition, existing laws and regulations are sufficient to ensure that assisted dying can be responsibly administered while the provinces and the federal government developed harmonized legislation.

Morris called on the justices of the Supreme Court of Canada to immediately turn down the federal government’s request for an extension.

“The Supreme Court showed immense compassion in its decision to strike down our unfair, unconstitutional law against physician assisted dying,” she said. “We are hopeful they will show the same compassion this time around.”

More suspense in Quebec

News of the Supreme Court hearing came out on Thursday, just a day before the Appeal Court of Quebec heard arguments in a case about the province’s assisted dying law. Early in December, in response to a request for a court injunction against the law, a judge with the Superior Court of Quebec temporarily put on hold the provincial government’s plan to offer legal assisted dying starting on Dec. 10. However, the suspension was lifted that very day when a three-judge panel on the appeal court — the highest court in the province — agreed to hear arguments in the case.

After hearing arguments in the case on Friday, the justices on the court have said they will issue a decision by Saturday afternoon. If they decide to allow the injunction, then Quebec’s assisted dying — which has been in effect for just more than a week — will be on hold once again. 

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