Skip to main content

The Supreme Court of Canada is seen in Ottawa, Monday October 17, 2011.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Supreme Court has agreed to revisit a case that briefly overturned Canada's ban on assisted suicide and offered a British Columbia woman a constitutional exemption to seek help in ending her life.

The court has agreed to hear an appeal in the case of Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor.

In 2012, Justice Lynn Smith of the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the existing law was unconstitutional, but delayed her ruling for a year to allow the federal government to rewrite the statute.

She also granted Taylor an exemption which would have allowed her to seek an assisted death. Taylor was terminally ill with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

The provincial court of appeal overturned Smith's overall ruling, but let the exemption stand. Taylor, however, died of an infection in October 2012.

The high court's decision comes more than 20 years after its landmark ruling in the case of Sue Rodriguez, which went against assisted suicide.

Both Carter and Taylor are dead, but the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association is continuing the fight.

"The case seeks to allow seriously and incurably ill, mentally competent adults the right to receive medical assistance to hasten death under specific safeguards," the association said in a statement.

The original case included the association and Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson, who took Lee's 89-year-old mother to Switzerland in January 2010 to peacefully end her life.

The civil liberties groups say Elayne Shapray, a woman with multiple sclerosis who is seeking the right to die with dignity, has joined the challenge to the existing law.

The trial judge skirted the Rodriguez decision by saying the Supreme Court charter rulings in recent years on the guarantees to "life, liberty, and security of the person" allowed for assisted suicide in some case.

She ruled the law must allow physician-assisted suicide in cases involving patients who are diagnosed with a serious illness or disability and who are experiencing "intolerable" physical or psychological suffering with no chance of improvement.

Proponents of assisted suicide argue that the Rodriguez ruling is outdated and that society's view of the issue has changed significantly.

The federal government, meanwhile, argues that Rodriguez is the final word on the subject.

Interact with The Globe