The BC Civil Liberties Association has filed leave to appeal to the SCC in the case of Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), which has reignited the judicial debate over the constitutionality of the current ban on physician-assisted dying. This move follows the recent BC Court of Appeal decision which upheld the Criminal Code prohibition on assisted suicide. While a BC Provincial Court judge had declared the provision unconstitutional, the BC Court of Appeal decided that it could not overturn the SCC’s 1993 decision of R. v. Rodriguez, which upheld section 241 of the Canadian Criminal Code. That section states: “Every one who (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.”
In addition to their application for leave to appeal, the BC Civil Liberties Association has requested that should the case be granted leave, that its hearing be fast-tracked, given the urgency of the situation for those who are terminally ill and wish to end their lives on their own terms.
Yesterday, on the steps of the BC Legislature in Victoria, supporters of the right to physician-assisted dying participated in a rally celebrating international World Right to Die Day. Disappointed with the Supreme Court’s judgement in R. v. Rodriguez, they are hopeful that the outcome will be different this time around. Twenty years later, the court will now be able to rely on evidence from jurisdictions which have legalized the practice. Further, many feel that Canadians’ views on the subject have evolved significantly since the SCC last wrestled with the issue. Indeed, even in 1993 the decision came down to a 5/4 split, with Justice McLaughlin (now Chief Justice) in dissent.