Skip to main content

Politics Physician-assisted dying: the five stages that brought us to this point

life and death

Physician-assisted dying: the five stages that brought us to this point

DAVE CHAN FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The federal government is poised to introduce a new law on physician-assisted death on Thursday. It has been running out of time to craft a new law after a Supreme Court ruling struck down the old one last February. Since then, politicians, legal and medical experts and advocates for the disabled have grappled with tough questions about when doctors can end the lives of patients suffering from painful or debilitating conditions. Here are some of the highlights

1. THE COURT RULING

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously on Feb. 6, 2015, that Canadians have the constitutional right to decide how they die in some circumstances, because the "sanctity of life" also includes the "passage into death." The court gave the federal government a February deadline to come up with a new law.

Families pushing for doctor-assisted suicide reflect on a bittersweet victory Feb. 6, 2015: Sandra Martin profiles some of the families involved in the struggle to change the law, who spoke about what the Supreme Court's ruling means to them.


2. THE ELECTION

Stephen Harper's Conservative government was reluctant to respond to the court's ruling. A consultative panel was appointed, but its work was suspended when an election was called, leaving the assisted-dying question to play out on the campaign trail. An Aug. 23-24 poll from Forum Research found that 77 per cent of Canadians supported legal physician-assisted suicide, and a majority supported it regardless of what party they intended to vote for.

Where federal parties stand on physician-assisted death Sept. 3, 2015: Sandra Martin grades the federal parties for their positions on the assisted-dying issue. The Liberals got a B+.)


3. OTTAWA ASKS FOR TIME

In December, newly minted Liberal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould requested a six-month extension from the Supreme Court, with the backing of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan. In January, the court granted an extension until June 6, but compromised by saying people seeking a doctor's note to end their lives could apply to a judge for permission during that time.

Story continues below advertisement

Supreme Court fumbles again on assisted dying Jan. 15, 2016: Emmett Macfarlane, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, takes stock of the Supreme Court's extension to Ottawa, and finds it lacking.


4. THE PROVINCES MOVE AHEAD

Quebec faced legal obstacles to implementing its own assisted-dying law after a Superior Court justice granted an injunction to put the law on hold, but eventually the courts backed Quebec's plan. In January, a Quebec City patient was the first to die with the assistance of a doctor; other deaths followed in March in British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario.

In assisted dying, remember this: We all are fragile March 1, 2016: L'Arche founder Jean Vanier and L'Arche Canada leader Hollee Card argue that Canadians must take care not to obscure or forget the innate dignity of those who are vulnerable.


5. OTTAWA'S PLAN COMES TOGETHER

The Trudeau cabinet got a clearer blueprint for an assisted-dying law in February, when a joint parliamentary committee issued a report on the issue. Its 21 recommendations included making assisted dying available to people with mental illnesses or psychiatric conditions, and offered a process for how requests should be made and how doctors should decide who is eligible. Meanwhile, the government also debated how MPs should vote on the new legislation: In February, Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc said the government planned to whip the vote, but the government backed away from that decision a week later; yesterday, The Globe reported that the Liberals decided to let MPs vote with their consciences on the issue.

Assisted dying report goes beyond scope, ignores evidence Feb. 27, 2016: Lawyer David Baker and University of Toronto professor Trudo Lemmens argue that the parliamentary committee's recommendations propose the world’s most open-ended regime with arguably the lowest safeguards.

MORE FROM THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Justice minister promises ‘substantive’ discussions about right-to-die legislation

2:13

Why Canada never had a Dr. Kevorkian In an exclusive excerpt from her new book A Good Death, Sandra Martin explores Canada’s position on physician-assisted suicide.
Jody Wilson-Raybould: The justice minister without precedent The assisted-dying law is a dauting test for Justin Trudeau's rookie Justice Minister. Is she up to the job? Erin Anderssen looks at Jody Wilson-Raybould and what makes her tick. (For subscribers.)
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Discussion loading ...