British Columbia high court strikes down law forbidding assisted suicide

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of British Columbia [official website] ruled [judgment] Friday that provisions of Canada's Criminal Code [text] that forbid physician-assisted suicide unjustly violate the rights to life, liberty and equality. In her ruling, Justice Lynn Smith acknowledged that physician-assisted suicide is an issue that has sharply divided both the medical community and the general public. Nevertheless, she ruled that the procedure could be safely done if adequate safeguards are in place:

Medical practitioners disagree about physician-assisted death. ... There are respected practitioners who would support legal change. ... They state that providing physician-assisted death in defined cases, with safeguards, would be consistent with their ethical views. ... The most commonly expressed reason for maintaining a distinction between currently accepted end-of-life practices and physician-assisted death is that any system of safeguards will not adequately protect the vulnerable. ... The evidence shows that risks exist, but they can be largely avoided through carefully designed, well-monitored safeguards.
It is unclear if the Canadian government plans to appeal the decision.

The right to die [JURIST news archive] has been a contentious issue worldwide. Last month the Louisiana legislature passed a bill [JURIST report] strengthening the state's ban on euthanasia. Earlier in May Georgia Governor Nathan Deal [official website] signed [JURIST report] a piece of legislation banning assisted suicide in the state. In 2011 an India high court ruled passive euthanasia was permitted [JURIST report] under certain circumstances, but rejected a petition for a mercy killing. In 2010 a German court ruled that removing a patient from life support is not a criminal offense [JURIST report] if the patient had previously given consent. In 2009 the Italian president refused to sign a government decree [JURIST report] that would stop the euthanasia of comatose women because it would violate the separation of power overturning a previous court ruling.

 

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