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Canada Court Rules Doctors Can Help Ill Patients Die

 / Updated  / Source: Associated Press
Image: A view shows the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa
A view shows the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa February 6, 2015. The Supreme Court of Canada overturned a ban on physician-assisted suicide on Friday, unanimously reversing a decision it made in 1993 and putting Canada in the company of a handful of Western countries where the practice will be legal.CHRIS WATTIE / Reuters

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TORONTO — Canada's highest court struck down a ban on doctor-assisted suicide for mentally competent patients with terminal illnesses, declaring Friday that how people choose to confront such conditions is "critical to their dignity and autonomy."

The Supreme Court's unanimous decision reverses its own decision two decades ago and gives Parliament a year to draft new legislation that recognizes the right of consenting adults who are enduring intolerable suffering to seek medical help ending their lives. The current ban on doctor-assisted suicide stands until then.

The judgment said the ban infringes on the life, liberty and security of individuals under Canada's constitution. It had been illegal in Canada to counsel, aid or abet a suicide, an offense carrying a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. "The law allows people in this situation to request palliative sedation, refuse artificial nutrition and hydration, or request the removal of life-sustaining medical equipment, but denies the right to request a physician's assistance in dying," the ruling noted.

Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Albania, Colombia, Japan and in the U.S. states of Washington, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico and Montana. The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg allow doctors, under strict conditions, to euthanize patients whose medical conditions have been judged hopeless and who are in great pain.

Image: Carter  embraces her husband Johnson while speaking to journalists at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa
Lee Carter (L) embraces her husband Hollis Johnson while speaking to journalists at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa February 6, 2015. The Supreme Court of Canada overturned a ban on physician-assisted suicide on Friday, unanimously reversing a decision it made in 1993 and putting Canada in the company of a handful of Western countries where the practice will be legal. Carter's mother, Kay Carter, traveled to Switzerland to end her life in 2010.CHRIS WATTIE / Reuters

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