Bioethics Blogs

Physician-Assisted Death in Canada February – June 2016

Jocelyn Downie explains the Supreme Court of Canada’s response to the federal government’s request for more time to develop a new law on physician-assisted death.


Nearly a year ago, on February 6, 2015, in Carter v. Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously declared that the Criminal Code prohibitions on physician-assisted death violated the Charter. These prohibitions were said to be invalid insofar as they blocked access to physician-assisted death for competent adults with “a grievous and irremediable 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.”

The Supreme Court of Canada then gave the federal/provincial/territorial governments 12 months (until February 6 2016) to introduce a regulatory framework to ensure access to physician-assisted dying. During this time the Criminal Code prohibitions would remain in force.

In response, the federal Conservative government did basically nothing for about five months. Then on July 17, 2015, the government appointed a three-person External Panel on Options for a Legislative Response to Carter v. Canada to advise the government on the implementation of Carter. The Panel began its work but, within weeks, the government triggered an election. As a consequence, the Panel was not allowed to consult in person in Canada until the end of the election campaign on October 19, 2015.

On November 4, 2015, when the new federal Liberal government took office, nine of the 12 months given to the federal government to implement the Carter decision had already passed.

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.