VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - A British Columbia Supreme
Court judge ruled Thursday that Canadian laws banning
doctor-assisted suicide are unconstitutional.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith declared the laws invalid,
but also suspended her ruling for one year to give Canada's federal
Parliament time to draft legislation with her ruling in mind.
Canada's federal government is expected to appeal the decision.
The case will likely go to the Canadian Supreme Court.
Smith also allowed the ailing Gloria Taylor, 64, to seek a
physician-assisted suicide during the one-year period if she wants.
Taylor was diagnosed in 2009 with
Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral
sclerosis or ALS, which is rapidly progressive and invariably
Smith said the provisions in Canada's constitution infringe on
Taylor's rights to life, liberty and security of persons.
She said the laws are discriminatory for those who are
grievously ill or physically disabled who want to have some control
over their circumstances at the end of their lives.
Countries are increasingly wrestling with the issue of assisted
suicide as their populations age.
It has been illegal in Canada to counsel, aid or abet a suicide,
an offence carrying a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
Grace Pastine of the British Civil Liberties Association called
it a major victory for individual rights at the end of life.
"The court has recognized that Canadians who are seriously and
incurably ill have the right to request a physician to assist them
in a dignified and human manner," she said.
Pastine said Taylor released a statement in which she said she
was deeply grateful knowing that she'll have a choice at the end of
her life and that it allows her to approach her death with dignity.
Dr. Will Johnson, Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition,
called it a "radical" decision but noted Parliament will have a
"We're disappointed but not surprised at the radical nature of
this decision today which essentially legalizes assisted suicide
and euthanasia in Canada," Johnson said.
"We think this judgment decided to minimize and to disregard a
lot of the evidence of harm in other jurisdictions where assisted
suicide and euthanizes has been practiced."
It has been nearly 20 years since another person with Lou
Gehrig's disease, Sue Rodriguez, gripped Canada with her court
battle for the right to assisted suicide. She lost her appeal but
took her own life with the help of an anonymous doctor in 1994, at
the age of 44.
In the latest case, Taylor's lead lawyer, civil liberties
defender Joe Arvay, argued to the court that assisted suicides were
taking place despite the ban, a practice he likened to the illegal
"back-alley abortions" of the past.
As she began her court fight in December 2011, Taylor was
confined to a wheelchair in constant pain with hands that barely
Taylor said she has challenges with everyday living, unable to
alone perform basic household tasks and personal care such as
Opponents argue that allowing assisted deaths could lead to
abuses of the elderly and infirm. Johnston of the Euthanasia
Prevention Coalition of Canada fears people could be pushed toward
death when their lives are no longer convenient for others. Only
last year Parliament voted 228-59 against changing the law to allow
doctors to help people die "once the person has expressed his or
her free and informed consent to die."
Supporters draw support from the Royal Society of Canada, the
country's senior scholarly body. Its panel of professors and
specialists in medical ethics and health law said in a report
issued Nov. 15 that assisted death in Canada should be regulated
and monitored rather than criminalized.
It said assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia is legal in the
Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the U.S. states
of Oregon, Washington and Montana, while in England and Wales the
policy does not stipulate that every case must be prosecuted.