16 Jun 2012

Canadian doctors can help in suicides - court

7:09 pm on 16 June 2012

A Canadian Supreme Court judge says that a law that stops doctors helping critically-ill patients to commit suicide is unconstitutional.

Justice Lynn Smith in British Columbia's Supreme Court suspended her ruling for a year to give the federal parliament time to draft new legislation.

The ruling also gives permission for Gloria Taylor, one of five plaintiffs, to seek doctor-assisted suicide.

Under the ruling, if Ms Taylor, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease, isthe only person in Canada - for the next year, at least - who could legally commit suicide with the help of her doctor.

Ms Taylor - who cried when she learned the news - must meet a list of conditions imposed by the judge. The conditions could serve as a blueprint for those who want to end their lives the same way, if and when they're permitted to do so.

In her 395-page ruling Ms Smith argues that suicide itself is not illegal in Canada, and therefore the ban denies the physically disabled the same rights as people who could take their own lives, breaking Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

'Watershed decision'

A spokeswoman for the British Columbia (BC) Civil Liberties Association told reporters the ruling is a "watershed decision".

She also read a statement from Ms Taylor, says she is "deeply grateful to have the comfort of knowing that I'll have a choice at the end of my life".

"This decision allows me to approach my death in the same way I have tried to live my life - with dignity, independence, and grace."

Government officials argue that assisted suicide runs counter to basic societal values and the will of Parliament.

Will Johnson, chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of BC, calls the ruling a "radical decision" and says it disregarded evidence of harm in places where assisted suicide was legal.

"We are extremely concerned about the situation of elder abuse which is a major issue in Canada," Mr Johnston says.