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Carter v. Canada Case Documents

The BCCLA filed a lawsuit in April 2011 to challenge the laws that make it a criminal offense to assist seriously and incurably ill individuals to die with dignity. The legal challenge sought to allow seriously and incurably ill, mentally competent adults the right to receive medical assistance to hasten death under certain specific safeguards.

On June 15, 2012, the BC Supreme Court released its judgment in the case. The BC Supreme Court ruled that the Criminal Code of Canada provisions against assisted dying violate the rights of the gravely ill and gave Parliament one year to rewrite the laws. The Court also granted plaintiff Gloria Taylor a constitutional exemption to seek a physician-assisted death.

On October 4, 2012, plaintiff Gloria Taylor passed away. Between March 18 – 22, 2013, the BC Court of Appeal heard the appeal of the case. On January 16, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada announced it will hear our appeal of the BC Court of Appeal’s judgment. The Supreme Court of Canada released its judgment on February 6, 2015. In a unanimous decision, the Court struck down the Criminal Code provisions against assisted dying.

In striking down the assisted suicide provisions in the Criminal Code, the Supreme Court of Canada found that the impugned provisions violated s. 7 rights to life, liberty, security of Gloria Taylor and others suffering from serious and incurable diseases, in that they denied individuals the ability to control choices fundamental to their lives and caused unnecessary suffering.

As per the Court: “Section 7 is rooted in a deep respect for the value of human life. But s.7 also encompasses life, liberty and security of the person during the passage to death. It is for this reason that the sanctity of life “is no longer seen to require that all human life be preserved at all costs.” (Rodriguez, at p. 595, per Sopinka J.) And it is for this reason that the law has come to recognize that, in certain circumstances, an individual’s choice about the end of her life is entitled to respect.” (para. 63)

The Court determined that the deprivation of seriously ill Canadians’ rights to life, liberty and the security of the person is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice because the prohibition on assisted dying is overbroad. The criminal prohibition is overbroad because it applies to all Canadians, even individuals like Gloria Taylor who were competent, fully-informed, and free from coercion and duress. Moreover, the ban is not justified because Parliament could protect vulnerable people while still allowing competent, seriously ill and suffering adults the right to a physician-assisted death.

The Court suspended its declaration of invalidity for 12 months in order to allow Parliament and the provincial legislatures to enact new legislation in accordance with its reasons.

Supreme Court of Canada decision

The BCCLA is represented by Joseph Arvay, Q.C. and Alison Latimer of Farris LLP and Sheila Tucker of Davis LLP.

BC Supreme Court Case Documents

BC Court of Appeal Case Documents

 Supreme Court of Canada Case Documents

Affidavits of Seriously Ill Patients and Family Members Filed at the BC Supreme Court

Seriously ill patients and their family members and friends urge the B.C. Supreme Court to allow for the right to die with dignity. The plaintiffs in the Carter case are supported by a diverse group of individuals who have serious and incurable illnesses and their friends and families.  They have provided evidence to the court that choice in dying upholds human rights and prevents unbearable suffering.

  • Peter F (71) who recently died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) a fatal neurodegenerative disease with no known cure or effective treatment. Affidavit dated August 26, 2011
  • Leslie L (54) who has stage IIIC anal cancer who wants the right to choose when she dies. Affidavit dated August 22, 2011
  • Jonathan L (52) who has Huntington’s disease. He watched his grandmother and mother die from the same disease and does not want to suffer as they did. Affidavit dated July 26, 2011
  • Elayne S (64) is a former nurse and palliative care volunteer. She has multiple sclerosis, an incurable, progressive disease. Affidavit dated August 3, 2011
  • Pieter Z (63) who has Huntington’s disease. He watched his aunt, uncle and mother die of the disease and fears losing his dignity in the same way. Affidavit dated August 26, 2011
  • Ian P (68) who has ALS. He explains why he wants the choice of physician-assisted dying. Affidavit dated August 28, 2011
  • Antony N (57) from the United Kingdom who had a stroke in 2005 and contracted locked-in syndrome. He is paralyzed from the neck down and is unable to speak. He is also appealing to the courts in the United Kingdom for the right to choose physician assisted suicide. Affidavit dated August 22, 2011