Canadian court rules in favour of assisted dying for the incurably suffering

The Quebec Superior Court has struck down a restriction under Canada’s law on assisted dying against those with progressive and incurable illnesses as unconstitutional. 

Under Canada’s 2015 law, adults who are of sound mind can voluntarily request an assisted death, if they suffer from a grievous and irremediable medical condition, and are in a state of irreversible decline, enduring intolerable suffering, and their ‘natural death has become reasonably foreseeable’. Between June 2016 and October 2018, 5085 Canadians ended their life via an assisted death, accounting on average for 0.77% of all deaths.

However, following a legal challenge from intolerably suffering Canadians, both suffering from non-life threatening conditions, Quebec’s highest trial court has ruled that ‘the reasonably foreseeable natural death requirement deprives both individuals and claimants of their autonomy and their choice to end their lives at the time and in the manner desired.’

Jean Truchon, 49, who is almost completely paralysed, and Nicole Gladu, 73, who suffers from post-polio argued that the requirement of a reasonably foreseeable death was out of step with the landmark Carter v Canada ruling which paved the way for legal assisted dying. 

Suspending the ruling for six months to allow Canada’s parliament to deal with its fallout, Justice Christine Badouin ruled that Jean Truchon and Nicole Gladu could proceed with an assisted death, and noted that ‘the statutory provision requiring natural death be reasonably foreseeable infringes life, liberty and security of the person guaranteed by Section 7 of the Charter to Mr. Jean Truchon and Ms. Nicole Gladu, in a manner inconsistent with the principles of fundamental justice’.

Nearly 90% of the public now favours a change in the law on assisted dying in the UK. The Canadian ruling follows the launch of two legal cases in the UK to legalise assisted dying for both the incurably suffering and terminally ill from a tetraplegic man, Paul Lamb, and Phil Newby, who suffers from motor-neurone disease. 

Assisted dying is now legal for terminally ill and incurably suffering people in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland; it is also legal for specifically terminally ill people in Colombia, ten US jurisdictions, and the Australian state of Victoria. 

The Canadian government can now decide whether to appeal the judgement or not. 

Trevor Moore, Chair of My Death, My Decision, an organisation that campaigns to legalise assisted dying for both the terminally ill and incurably suffering said:

“We warmly welcome the judgement of the Quebec Superior Court, and its decision to defend both the rights of those who are terminally ill or facing incurable suffering, as this marks yet another important step forward within the international consensus, towards a kinder and fairer law on assisted dying. 

An overwhelming majority of the public now favours changing the law on safeguarded assisted dying to enable those living in unbearable and incurable suffering the right to decide the manner and timing of their own death. Just as compassion has motivated others to support assisted dying in the past for those who are terminally ill, it is time for our Parliament to speak up for those facing incurable suffering, such as the late Tony Nicklinson, and now Paul Lamb and Phil Newby.”