On January 15, 2016, the Supreme Court released its decision on the Federal government request to extend the suspension of its declaration that physician-assisted death was unconstitutional. The suspension was to expire on Feb. 6th 2016, the first anniversary of the Court’s release of the groundbreaking judgment in Carter v. Canada, but the Federal Government asked for more time to craft legislation. The 4 month extension was a unanimous decision of the Court. That was the easiest part because there were 2 other issues.
The second issue was whether the extension of the suspension should apply to Quebec where provincial law allowing physician-assisted death has been legal since Dec. 10, 2015. The Court granted Quebec’s request without offering an opininon on the legality of the provincial statute. In other words, physician-assisted death is still against the Criminal Code of Canada across the country, except in Quebec.
And, that takes us to the next point. Many of the parties who made submissions to the Court argued that it was unfair to make people enduring intolerable suffering to wait an extra 4 months before being assisted to die. In a split decision, the Court granted an unusual provision: Physician-assisted death is now legal across Canada, but outside Quebec a Superior Court Judge must approve the request.
The goal was to give the Federal and provincial governments more time to craft appropriate legislation while not forcing those in dire straits to wait to end their lives until the legislation is in place. Unfortunately, it will take a court application to achieve the result. While no one knows what that application will or should look like, we think it will be similar to the guardianship applications our firm handles almost routinely.