On Feb. 6, the Supreme Court of Canada released a landmark judgment, striking down the existing law that prohibits physician-assisted suicide.
“Before the decision came out, the laws were absolute,” said Alan Shanoff, lawyer and lecturer at Humber College. “Assisted suicide was illegal no matter what the circumstances.”
After the ruling, Canadians are entitled to physician-assisted death when certain conditions are satisfied.
Death must be physician-assisted, and involve a competent adult who is able to comprehend all aspects of the decision they are about to make. There must be a clear consent to the termination of life.
“The adult must have a grievous medical condition that cannot be remedied, and one that causes enduring suffering which is intolerable to the individual,” said Shanoff.
Canada is now part of a handful of countries that allow for physician-assisted dying. The others are Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. It is also legal in five U.S. states: Oregon, New Mexico, Vermont, Washington and Montana.
The Supreme Court has given the federal government one year to bring in a change to the laws on assisted suicide.
Wayne Sumner, Professor Emeritus in Philosophy at the University of Toronto, provided expert testimony relating to the Supreme Court’s decision.
“The main question had to do with whether there is any ethical or significant ethical difference between physician-assisted death and various other end of life measures that also have the effect of shortening life,” said Sumner. “What I did was explain why there isn’t any ethical difference there.”
Sumner said the decision gives patients a new option.
“In doing so, we’re respecting their freedom of choice, they can decide how and when death will occur, and we are enabling them to avoid unnecessary suffering,” she said.
Sabrina Labbee, a third-year social work student at Ryerson University, applauds the ruling.
“From a social work perspective, we want to be all about empowering people to make decisions for their lives rather than having a medical professional or someone in a place of power telling us what to do with our lives. So I think it’s very important to give people autonomy,” said Labbee.
Humber Nursing student Cindy Tran, 19, said physician-assisted death is a personal choice.
“If they are conscious enough to make the right decision, then assisted suicide should be okay,” said Tran.