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editorial

The Supreme Court of Canada overturned a ban on physician-assisted suicide last year.Chris Wattie/Reuters

In their landmark Carter v. Canada ruling last year, the Supreme Court justices helpfully suggested ways the government could implement the court's decision to overturn parts of the Criminal Code outlawing assisted suicide.

The offending clauses could be amended, the judges said, to include clauses allowing assisted suicide for someone "who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition" that causes enduring and intolerable suffering.

The judgment also specified no doctor should be compelled to participate. All the basic parts are in place. And now the court has given Ottawa another four months to get the job done. So, when Ottawa claims it is nigh impossible to set up a national system in the next 18 weeks, that is a problem of its own creation.

First of all, it's not Parliament's job to build a vast, new regulatory edifice; the provinces and territories will have to reach agreement among themselves in an area that is plainly under their constitutional jurisdiction.

And given the considerable body of expert knowledge on the issue and the fact that Quebec already has a law on the books that has been given a green light by the court, the path is well lit.

Even if provinces decide not to follow Quebec's lead, the options aren't unlimited. The so-called "dying with dignity" laws in effect around the world fit on a narrow spectrum between fairly permissive (Holland) and restrictive (Washington state).

Of course, it would be preferable to have a uniform framework from coast to coast. For one thing, it would avoid the kind of end-of-life-care shopping that occasionally draws the ill and dying to certain U.S. states or to Switzerland.

But Ottawa's hemming and hawing give short shrift to the pain of those who seek it out. By suspending their original finding that the current law is unconstitutional for 12 months, the justices acknowledged it is Parliament's role to find a solution.

Ottawa could always decide to do nothing – as with abortion. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised a law to formalize and restrict access to assisted dying.

Four more months is ample time to pass it.