This Blog was written by: Natalie Rouse
In February of last year, in Carter v. Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the ban on doctor-assisted dying, and gave the federal government 1 year to instate a law (plus a four month extension to June 6th, that was granted to the newly elected Liberal government).
Bill C-14 was created in an attempt to put guidelines in place in terms of who should be entitled to the procedure, and under what circumstances. Among other things, it sets out that the individual must be mentally competent, 18 years of age or older, have a serious and incurable disease, illness or disability and be in an advanced state of irreversible decline of capability. The Bill has passed the third reading and is now at the Senate stage.
Earlier this year Dr. Ken Shulman posted a thoughtful blog that referenced some of the complexities of developing thoughtful legislation with respect to doctor-assisted dying in Canada. Perhaps, not surprisingly the June 6, 2016 deadline has passed.
In the meantime, until federal legislation has been passed, the ruling in Carter vs Canada will be the law of the land. This ruling sets out that the Criminal code is of no force or effect to the extent they prohibit a physician-assisted death for a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.
With the extensive media coverage on this topic, clients may want to discuss end of life decisions with their Planner. For example, clients may decide to include their views on doctor-assisted death in their estate planning documents, but it’s important for them to know that at this point in time, they will be seen as wishes only and not something that can necessarily be upheld. At present, the decision to end someone’s life cannot be delegated to someone else (ie a Power of Attorney or Guardian). It is unknown if the law on this will change as we continue down this road. It will be important for practitioners to stay up to date on the progress of the legislation, in order to be able to field questions and provide information to clients in an educated and sensitive way.