Bioethics Blogs

Clarifying the Assisted Death Recommendations

Maureen Taylor, Jocelyn Downie, and Jennifer Gibson suggest that recent commentaries on official Reports on assisted death in Canada misstate the recommendations made in the Reports and their relationship to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Carter.

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Given some recent commentaries on the Reports of the 2015 Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying and the 2016 Federal  Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, it is important to carefully examine what these Reports and the Supreme Court of Canada in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) actually said.

First, the Provincial-Territorial Group and the Special Joint Committee recommended that access to assisted death not be limited to individuals with a terminal illness. Some commentators have said that it should be limited in this way to be consistent with the decision made by Justice Smith (the trial judge) that limited access to individuals “in a state of advanced weakening capacities.” However, the Supreme Court did not include Justice Smith’s limit in its decision.  As noted by the Federal Expert Panel on Options for a Legislative Response to Carter v. Canada, “[t]he Court’s declaration did not indicate that the person must be at the end of life, have a terminal diagnosis or be at an advanced stage of disease.”

Further, it has been suggested that the Supreme Court limited access to assisted death to those who are “at the end-of-life” and that the Reports, inappropriately, went beyond the Court’s limit. However, there is no such limit in the Supreme Court’s decision. The individuals before the courts were not all “at the end-of-life.” Gloria Taylor lived almost a year after the trial, Elayne Shapray is still alive, and Kay Carter didn’t have a terminal condition.  It was therefore not open to the Provincial-Territorial Group or the Special Joint Committee to limit access to assisted death to individuals with a terminal illness.

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.