Bioethics Blogs

In a Nutshell: The Supreme Court of Canada decision in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General)

Jocelyn Downie provides a brief summary of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) to help explain why prohibiting physician-assisted death is unconstitutional.


In a momentous decision released February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Canadian Criminal Code prohibitions on voluntary euthanasia (section 14) and assisted suicide (section 241(b)) violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Physician-assisted death will be legal in Canada within 12 months.

The Supreme Court’s decision was based on the following factual conclusions drawn by the Trial Judge at the BC Supreme Court, following an exhaustive review of empirical and expert evidence. Justice Lynn Smith found (and the Supreme Court accepted) that: “it was feasible for properly qualified and experienced physicians to reliably assess patient competence and voluntariness, that coercion, undue influence, and ambivalence could all be reliably assessed as part of that process.”

Further, with respect to slippery slopes and abuse of the vulnerable, Justice Smith found (and the Supreme court accepted) that there was: “no evidence from permissive regimes that people with disabilities are at heightened risk of accessing physician-assisted dying;” “no evidence of inordinate impact on socially vulnerable populations in permissive jurisdictions;” and “no compelling evidence that a permissive regime in Canada would result in a ‘practical slippery slope.’”


The Supreme Court’s decision turned on the legal analysis of the application of sections 7 and 1 of the Charter to the Criminal Code’s absolute ban on physician-assisted death in light of these (and other) facts.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.