Carter v. Canada, 2015 SCC 5, is a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision, with no dissenting opinions and a judgement written by “The Court”.
The issue for the Court to consider was whether the prohibition on medical aid in dying found in the Criminal Code of Canada violated the claimants’ rights under sections 7 and 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The claimants defined physician-assisted death and physician-assisted dying as a “situation where a physician provides or administers medication that intentionally brings about the patient’s death, at the request of the patient.”
The Court held that provisions in the Criminal Code of Canada infringes on section 7 of the Charter, depriving adults of their right to life, liberty and security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. The Court specifically considered the application of the law in the case of “a competent adult person who:
(1) clearly consents to the termination of life; and
(2) has a grievous and irremediable medical 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.”
Particularly noteworthy for physicians is the Court’s statement that “nothing in this declaration would compel physicians to provide assistance in dying.” As a result, the Court was unequivocal in stating that a physician’s decision to participate in assisted death is a matter of conscience and sometimes, religious belief.
Currently, the law does not permit an Agent or Guardian to implement the decision of a person to have an assisted death. Medical aid in dying is currently only available to competent adult people as the 2-part test noted above states.
On June 17, 2016, the federal government passed legislation, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code and to Make Related Amendments to other Acts (Medical Assistance in Dying), which now governs the delivery of medical assistance in dying services across Canada.
In Alberta, medical aid in dying is coordinated by Alberta Health Services, and should you wish to have more information concerning medical aid in dying, a discussion with your physician would be appropriate. The website: http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/info/Page13497.aspx provides information concerning the Medical Assistance in Dying Care Coordination Service, and set out how to access the required services. You can call Health Link (811) or email MAID.CareTeam@ahs.ca to be connected with the service as well.