Assisted dying is a right

The Supreme Court has confirmed what patients, healthcare professionals and our supporters have known for years: the Criminal Code ban on physician assisted dying violates our human rights.

In striking down the old law, the justices clearly explained why the ban contravenes our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The prohibition, the court wrote, forces patients to endure intolerable suffering against their wishes and denies them autonomy over their bodies.

The judgment does more than just outline why the old law, which expired on June 6, 2016, is inhumane. It serves to establish choice in dying as a right for all Canadians.

'Life, liberty and security of the person'

In its historic decision in Carter v. Canada, the Supreme Court ruled the old law infringes on Canadians' right to "life, liberty and security of the person" outlined in the Charter. Their reasoning takes into account binders of evidence-based research from countries and states where assisted dying is legal. And it addresses the heartbreaking personal stories of Canadians who were denied choice.

How does a ban on assisted dying violate one's right to life? "The prohibition deprives some individuals of life, as 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," the Supreme Court said. This conclusion is supported by U.K. government statistics that suggest 300 terminally ill Britons die by suicide every year.

How the law limits a person's freedom is more straightforward. "An individual's response to a grievous and irremediable medical condition is a matter critical to their dignity and autonomy," the judgment reads. "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."

The wording of the decision left us breathless. It summarized why we've worked for so long to bring Canadians choice at end of life. Simply put, the ban on assisted dying forced unwanted suffering upon gravely ill Canadians. It robbed them of the right to make their own decisions. It violated our most precious rights as Canadians. Thus, it could not stand.

A new era for Canadians

The Supreme Court's ruling signals a new era for DWD Canada and the country as a whole. At last, we have a decree from the highest court in the land that acknowledges our right to a peaceful death. Now, we must work to create new rules that reflect the spirit of the Supreme Court’s decision. Until we finish building a Canada that allows assisted dying for those who need it, the "right to life, liberty and security of the person" will remain just a promise on paper.

(Photo credit: Marc Lostracci/Flickr/Wikipedia)