Patients in Canada who live with severe and incurable medical conditions have been given the green light to a medically-assisted death.
The unanimous decision overturned a 1993 ban which the court ruled impinged on Canadians’ rights.
The landmark case was brought forward by a civil rights group on behalf of two women, Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor, with degenerative diseases. Both women had wished to end their “grievous and irremediable” illnesses with medical help.
Taylor, who was affected by a neurodegenerative disease, subsequently died from an infection and Carter, then 89, travelled with her family to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is allowed, to end her life.
Assisted suicide is now legal in Several European countries and a handful of US states . In canada it is illegal for a medical professional to counsel, aid or abet a suicide and the offence carries a 14 year prison sentence.
The Canadian government now has a year to rewrite a law on assisted suicide, if it fails to do so the current law will be struck down.
In the landmark ruling, the justices wrote they “did 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”.
However, the court limited doctor-assisted suicide to consenting adults, who have a incurable but not necessarily terminal disease that causes “enduring and intolerable suffering”.
They argued that the 1993 total ban on doctor-assisted suicide: “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”.
“This is one incredible day,” said Grace Pastine of British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the group who brought the case foward.
“Physician-assisted dying is now recognised for what it is – a medical service that brings an end, for some individuals, to unbearable suffering,” she added.
Numerous religious groups in the country were strongly opposed to dropping the ban and the issue has divided the disability-rights community in Canada as a result of the ruling.