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The Supreme Court will rule today on a question it last considered more than 20 years ago: should it be legal for doctors to help dying patients kill themselves?
The case that will be decided Friday was brought by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association on behalf of two women, Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor, both of whom have died since the legal battle began. Both women had degenerative diseases and wanted the right to have a doctor help them die. Carter went to Switzerland with her daughter, Lee, to die. Taylor died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
A lawyer on behalf of Carter and Taylor argued that they were being discriminated against because their physical disabilities didn't allow them to kill themselves the way able-bodied people could. Further limiting their options, as degenerative diseases progress further, patients can lose the ability even to swallow.
The Supreme Court of Canada says a law that makes it illegal for anyone to help a person commit suicide should be amended to allow doctors to help in specific situations.
The ruling only applies to competent adults with enduring, intolerable suffering who clearly consent to ending their lives.
The court has given federal and provincial governments 12 months to craft legislation to respond to the ruling; the ban on doctor-assisted suicide stands until then. If the government doesn't write a new law, the current one will be struck down.
The historic, groundbreaking decision from the country’s top court sweeps away the existing law and gives Parliament a year to draft new legislation that recognizes the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable suffering — physical or mental — to seek medical help ending their lives.