Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5

In Carter, the Supreme Court reconsidered the constitutionality of the prohibition on assisted suicide, which had previously been upheld in Rodriguez.

The case centered primarily on Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the guarantee that nobody should be deprived of the right to life, liberty, or security of the person, except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Although some see the assisted suicide question as a clash between life and liberty, the Supreme Court took a different approach, concluding unanimously that the prohibition on assisted suicide infringed all three Section 7 rights. Life was infringed because of evidence suggesting that people with degenerative illnesses such as ALS may commit suicide while they are still physically able rather than risk becoming physically incapacitated and unable to commit suicide without assistance.

The Court noted that deprivations of life, liberty and security of the person do not necessarily render a law unconstitutional, as laws do this every day. However, a law which effects such deprivation in a manner inconsistent with the principles of fundamental justice may be declared unconstitutional, and therefore of no force or effect.

The prohibition on assisted suicide was found to be inconsistent with the principles of fundamental justice on the basis that it was overbroad. The purpose of the law was to protect vulnerable people from being induced to commit suicide, whereas the effect of the law was to prevent informed and consenting people with painful and terminal illnesses from seeking assistance in committing the otherwise lawful act of suicide.

On this basis, the relevant section of the Criminal Code was deemed to be contrary to Section 7 of the Charter, and therefore of no force or effect.

Decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on February 6, 2015.
Click here for the full text of the decision.

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