Supreme Court of Canada passes doctor-assisted death law

The unanimous ruling, striking down the ban on doctor-assisted death to “irremediable” patients, was handed down Friday by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The court’s decision allows people with “grievous and irremediable medical conditions” to ask for doctor-assisted suicide.

It was in 1991 when the high-profile case of Vancouver resident, Sue Rodriquez, began her legal battle for assisted suicide, arguing she wanted to make her own decisions about her own body after being diagnosed with ALS.

Then-federal New Democrat, Svend Robinson, joined her fight for assisted suicide and was with Rodriguez when she died.

Robinson says today’s high court decision granting all severely suffering Canadians the legal right to make the same decision is a chance to honor Rodriguez for her trailblazing efforts.

Robinson, who introduced a private members’ bill on physician-assisted suicide in December 1992 and now lives in Geneva, says the court decision makes him proud to be Canadian.

Although pleased with the high-court’s ruling, Dr. James Downar, Co-Chair of the Physicians Advisory Council for Dying with Dignity said, “The Supreme Court has lit a fire under us,” referring to the level of palliative and end-of-life care.

In reaction to the Supreme Court ruling, the Canadian Medical Association released a statement saying it, “will continue to work to promote access to high-quality palliative care” — an aspect of end-of-life care that many doctors feel goes hand-in-hand with assisted death.

Downar stressed that a large majority of people who seek doctor-assisted death are already in palliative care. “In countries such as England or the Netherlands where assisted death is legal, palliative care is the best,” he noted.

Udo Schuklenk, who chaired the Royal Society panel that released a report in 2011 that found that when it came to palliative care, “the better it is, the fewer requests you will have” for an assisted death.

“When Quebec passed its [Act Respecting End-of-Life Care], they also put more money into palliative care. It’s a win-win situation,” he added.

Quebec passed Bill 52 in June 2014, incorporating medically assisted death into their provincial health care legislation, allowing terminally ill people with unbearable suffering to request that a physician administer a lethal dose of medication.

That law may have to now be revised in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling.

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