Supreme Court allows four-month delay of assisted dying ruling

The Supreme Court has granted in part a request of the federal government to delay the implementation of the court's decision on physician assisted dying.

In a decision released Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada decided to grant in part a request of the federal government for more time to respond to the ruling on Carter last year, which was supposed to enter into effect on February 6. The Liberal government had asked the Court for another six months, but the Supreme Court gave it only four months to account for the time between when last year's federal election was called and when the Liberals took power. However, the decision laid out a judicial process for those who wish to use their constitutional right to assisted death in the meantime.

"We are disappointed that Canadians facing terrible diagnoses may have to wait even longer to realize their right to die in peace and dignity," said DWDC CEO Wanda Morris. "Our hearts go out to the patients and families who will be harmed by this decision."

In its decision this afternoon, the Supreme Court called the initial suspension itself "an extraordinary step" and the extension "even more problematic," but "agreeing that more time is needed" for the government to work on it. The Court however, also agreed with the arguments of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, one of the plaintiffs in the case, saying "we do not at the same time see any need to unfairly prolong the suffering of those who meet the clear criteria set out in Carter." The Court exempted Quebec from the suspension's extension, a decision the Court called a first in its history.

The Supreme Court decision says "those who wish to seek assistance from a physician in accordance with the criteria set out in … Carter, may apply to the superior court of their jurisdiction for relief during the period of suspension." Having granted an exemption from the four-month suspension to the province of Quebec, the Supreme Court judges said the judicial authorization route for all other Canadians would help address "concerns of fairness and equality across the country."    

In Carter, the Supreme Court had decided to strike down the Criminal Code provisions that prevented doctors from carrying out assisted death. The Court had suspended the effects of its decision for one year, that is until February 6, to allow for the federal and provincial governments to adjust to the new reality. The Liberal government petitioned the Supreme Court seeking an additional six-month suspension extension alleging it has had little time in office to prepare for it. The federal government and the government of Ontario asked the court to exempt Quebec of any extension of the suspension because the province already had its own assisted death law in full force.

For more information, read CBC News's online report on the assisted dying extension.



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