Doctor-assisted suicide: 10 voices on Supreme Court ruling

Reaction was swift and polarized after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously Friday that competent adults with grievous and irremediable medical conditions have the right to ask a doctor to help them die.

Ban on doctor-aided suicide to be struck down in 12 months, unless government responds with new law

REACTION: Right to die decision

8 years ago
Duration 2:41
Voices supporting and opposing the Supreme Court ruling

Reaction was swift and polarized after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously Friday that competent adults with grievous and irremediable medical conditions have the right to ask a doctor to help them die. 

The ban on doctor-assisted suicide will be struck down in 12 months, unless federal and provincial governments amend legislation to respond to the ruling. 

The decision comes more than 20 years after the Supreme Court ruled that Sue Rodriguez, a British Columbia woman with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), could not have a doctor help her commit suicide.
Lee Carter, with husband Hollis Johnson, says the court's decision is a 'victory for Canadians.' Carter is a lead plaintiff in the case. Carter's 89-year-old mother, Kathleen (Kay) Carter, had spinal stenosis and went to Switzerland in 2010 to end her life. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, who became a quadriplegic after an accident in 1996, has already introduced a private member's bill to make physician-assisted death legal in Canada.

Here's what some Canadians are saying about the decision:

"What a journey. Five years ago, we travelled to Switzerland with my mother, Kay Carter, so she could end her life on her terms. Today, with the help of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, her journey is complete with the Supreme Court of Canada granting Canadians the rights that she was denied. As a woman who always enjoyed a debate, Kay would smile about this outcome and the conversation it has initiated about death and end-of-life options. Justice, dignity and compassion were defining qualities of my mother. This ruling now extends those same elements to individuals seeking a dignified death. A huge victory for Canadians and a legacy for Kay. Thank you, mom."

– Lee Carter, a lead plaintiff in the case

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"We intend to take the time to thoughtfully review this very important decision. There is a wide and obviously very emotional range of perspectives on this issue. But it has very far-reaching implications so we intend to take the time to look at this decision carefully, thoughtfully. The Supreme Court, as you will know, as part of the decision, has provided a 12-month period in which the current law remains in effect, and so that provides this opportunity for a very important examination of all of the implications." 

– Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Peter MacKay

Peter MacKay on assisted suicide decision

8 years ago
Duration 1:30
The minister of justice says the government has 12 months to "thoughtfully review this very important decision."

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"Well, what can I say? This is a momentous day, an historic day, a day that, I think, we as Canadians can celebrate. We now have direction for our parliamentarians to reflect what the vast majority of Canadians already believe — that dying with dignity, physician-assisted death, should be allowed in certain circumstances. This ruling will, I believe, reduce suffering. It will allow people to actually live longer, because they will have the peace of mind that they are not going to have a horrible death. They will have the peace of mind and, in reality, what happens is people, I think, will end up not using physician-assisted death, but they will be comforted to know that they have that choice and will not be cutting their lives short because they are concerned they'll be trapped in their own bodies."
Conservative MP Steven Fletcher makes his way through the foyer of the Supreme Court of Canada Friday morning. The court unanimously struck down the ban on providing a doctor-assisted death to mentally competent but suffering and 'irremediable' patients. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

– Steven Fletcher, Conservative MP

* * *

"We find this decision is the most destructive and least restrictive option in the world right now in terms of assisted suicide and euthanasia. We are extremely discouraged because 20 years ago, the Rodriguez court said the discrimination of the people with disabilities that is apparent in society puts people at risk — yet this court has decided that, apparently, that discrimination isn't important enough to protect people with disabilities. The slippery slope that everybody talks about has already been launched. This court has removed the first brake."

– Amy Hasbrouck, director, Toujours Vivant – Not Dead Yet 

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"Giving people the legal right to kill others in whatever state of life they are in is something Canadians must never support. This decision potentially puts people living with disabilities, the elderly and those who are terminally ill in greater risk of being abused and killed under the umbrella of 'dying with dignity.' This is not acceptable."

– Jim Hughes, Campaign Life Coalition president

* * *

"The B.C. Civil Liberties Association fought this case and we are absolutely overjoyed by the court's ruling today. This is a tremendous victory for human rights and for compassion at the end of life. What this decision means is that Canadians who are suffering unbearably at the end of life will have a choice now.... The court's ruling today means that Canada has now finally joined the long list of countries that allow for physician- assisted dying. Many countries around the world now, such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the states of Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Montana and Vermont allow for physician-assisted dying." 

– Grace Pastine, litigation director, B.C. Civil Liberties Association

* * *

"Like many of us, I sat beside my father's bed for weeks while he faded, and it didn't come to the point of having to make this decision, but I very well understand the challenges that people are facing. I am a Liberal, which means I believe in protecting peoples' choices and freedoms in a way that makes sure that as society we're protecting our most vulnerable. And I know that that balance is one that Canada has been able to find in a lot of different ways, in a lot of different places, and what my deep hope is, is the discussion we will have as parliamentarians on this deeply personal and important issue to so many Canadians is done in a way that is respectful of the range of voices, that isn't tinged with partisanship or political points and is held up as a model of how Parliament should work to tackle difficult issues facing our society."

– Justin Trudeau, federal Liberal leader

Lee Carter interview

8 years ago
Duration 8:10
Woman accompanied mother to Switzerland in January 2010 to end her life

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"I know that Sue [Rodriguez] would be ecstatic. She fought with such courage and such dignity to change the law, that, as the Supreme Court of Canada ruled, is fundamentally cruel.... [When] we went to court – the B.C. Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada ...I remind you this was one of the first cases in the Supreme Court that was televised. There was such public interest and such public support for Sue Rodriguez.... It was a heartbreakingly close decision [in 1993]. Sue, speaking personally, said, 'The court may have spoken, but I have the last word,' and of course, she did. But, more importantly, both of us at the time recognized this was just one step on a journey. I didn’t have any idea it would take over 20-odd years, but here we are today."

– Svend Robinson, former B.C. New Democrat MP

* * *

"The Canadian Medical Association supports physicians being able to follow their conscience in choosing whether to participate in medical aid in dying.... The CMA policy recognizes that there are rare occasions where patients have such a degree of suffering, even with access to palliative and end-of-life care, that they request medical aid in dying. We believe in those cases, and within legal constraints, that medical aid in dying may be appropriate....The CMA will continue to work to promote access to high-quality palliative care."

– Canadian Medical Association

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"Life is too precious to allow a doctor to kill. This is a violation of the Hippocratic Oath, where doctors swear, 'I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.' It is sad to think that people suffering will now have to contend with the pressure of making a decision on ending their life, instead of fighting to continue."

– Charles McVety, president, Institute for Canadian Values