In a landmark judgment – admittedly one that may be appealed – the Supreme Court of British Columbia has struck down a law against physician assisted suicide and required the legislature to enact something less restrictive. You can find a brief discussion of the case here, in The Globe and Mail … which has also published an editorial in support of the outcome.
In Carter v. Canada, the court has, in particular, referred to the extensive report of a committee chaired by my friend and collaborator, Udo Schuklenk, which found, among other things, that vulnerable people are not especially at risk in a regime that permits physician assisted suicide (with appropriate regulation). The report was admitted into evidence, though not relied on for its conclusions about the efficacy of safeguards in other jurisdictions (there was other evidence relating to this, and some authors of the report were involved in the case).
Udo is quoted in The Globe and Mail:
Dr. Schuklenk, a bioethicist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said the judge in Friday’s ruling clearly took into account the panel’s finding that there is no evidence that vulnerable people would be at appreciable risk of abuse if euthanasia was decriminalized. “If there is no appreciable risk, surely autonomy-based considerations mean people should be able to make these sorts of choices towards the end of their lives and have these choices respected,” he said.
The full judgment will repay careful study, and there is still the prospect of appeal. I am not, in this brief post, going to assess the legal correctness of the reasoning or the prospects for success of any appeal. I only wish to say that it’s important news that could, at least outside of Canada, get lost amongst all the day-to-day issues that trouble us. From my point of view, it’s great news, but again I don’t intend to develop the argument for physician assisted suicide here. If you’re interested in these questions, do have a close look at the court’s judgment.