N.L. Crown prosecutors, police receive directive on new doctor-assisted dying rules

Crown prosecutors in Newfoundland and Labrador have been given a directive outlining when to prosecute for cases of physician-assisted death.
The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's. (CBC)

Crown prosecutors in Newfoundland and Labrador have been given a directive outlining when — and when not — to prosecute for cases of physician-assisted death.

The province's director of public prosecutions publicly shared the directive on Thursday, in compliance with the February 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling — also known as the Carter case — that prohibiting assisted dying is unconstitutional in some cases.

In that ruling, the court ruled that a law that makes it illegal for anyone to help people end their own lives should be amended to allow doctors to help in specific situations. Federal legislation on assisted dying is now currently moving through the parliamentary process.

People with grievous and irremediable medical conditions should have the right to ask a doctor to help them die, Canada's highest court said in a unanimous ruling in 2015. (Radio-Canada)

The directive sent to Newfoundland and Labrador attorneys explains that the likelihood of conviction for criminal charges related to certain sections of the Criminal Code are now much less likely than before the Supreme Court ruling — specifically in relation to sections 241 and 14, which deal with "counselling or aiding suicide."

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says the provincial government wants to be clear that if a patient's case falls within the criteria of the Carter decision, a doctor who helps them die won't be charged with committing a crime.
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons at the Confederation Building in St. John's. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

"No they wouldn't be prosecuted because the law right now is based on the Carter case which says that those provisions were struck down," said Parsons.

"The problem would be if a physician is unsure and maybe believes that they could be prosecuted, then that may prevent them from providing this service, which they are supposed to do."

According to the directive, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the RCMP have agreed to contact the public prosecutions office before investigating complaints related to doctor-assisted death.

The directive is also clear that pharmacists who help in such cases won't be prosecuted.

The full directive can be found on the Department of Justice website.