The Supreme Court of Canada Decision Allows for the Prescription and the Syringe

Jocelyn Downie clarifies the Canadian Medical Association’s confusion regarding the Carter v. Canada decision.


There appears to be some confusion about just what the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Carter v. Canada actually means. This confusion was expressed by the Canadian Medical Association in an interview with National Post Media reporter Sharon Kirkey. In that interview, Dr. Jeff Blackmer, director of ethics and professional affairs at the Canadian Medical Association, said: “We’ve got a few key questions that we think need clarity and this is one of them: Is it euthanasia or is it assisted dying?”

As Sharon Kirkey reports, Blackmer, “said it is not clear whether the high court has opened the door not just to assisted suicide — where a doctor writes a prescription for a lethal overdose of drugs the patient takes herself — but also to something many physicians find profoundly more uneasy: pushing the syringe themselves.”

But there is no need for the Canadian Medical Association or its members to be confused. The Supreme Court’s decision is clear. The Court struck down the prohibitions on both physician-assisted suicide and physician-provided voluntary euthanasia. This is clear both from the terms used as well as the specific Criminal Code provisions it struck down.

First, at the trial level in Carter v. Canada, Justice Lynn Smith carefully and clearly defined the terms for her decision:

[39] “Assisted dying” and “assisted death” are generic terms used to describe both assisted suicide and voluntary  euthanasia. “Physician-assisted death” and “physician-assisted dying” are likewise generic terms that encompass physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia that is performed by a medical practitioner or a person acting under the direction of a medical practitioner.

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.