Webcast archive: The Supreme Court extends the deadline for assisted suicide by four months

This week, we discuss the Supreme Court’s new delay.

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss:

  • The Supreme Court extends the deadline for assisted suicide by four months
  • The Federal Expert Panel’s report is released
  • The Special Joint Parliamentary Committee on Physician-Assisted Death gets to work

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.


  • In a decision handed down last Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court of Canada granted a four-month extension on the effective date of the Carter judgment.  That means the provisions of the federal Criminal Code that prohibit assisted suicide are still in effect until June 6.
  • On that date, if Parliament has not acted, any competent adult with an “irremediable medical condition that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition” can get help from a doctor to die.
  • It’s up to Parliament, between now and June 6, to define the terms of the ruling, decide who is eligible, and describe the conditions that must be met before a person can be helped to die.
  • The court said that the Québec law can continue in effect until the new federal law is passed.  The court said this should not be taken as an endorsement of the Québec law.  Once the federal law is written, any conflicts between the federal and Québec’s law will have to be ironed out.
  • The court also allowed that anyone who wants assisted suicide or euthanasia before June 6 can get an exemption from a judge.


  • The Federal Expert Panel’s report was finally published on January 18.  Though the panel turned in the report by the December 15 deadline, the Liberal government took a month to release the 461 page document.
  • The federal panel included Dr. Harvey Chochinov, an expert in Palliative care; Catherine Frazee, a person with a disability, retired professor at Ryerson University, and former Human Rights Commissioner for Ontario; and Benoit Pelletier, an expert in constitutional law and professor at the University of Ottawa.
  • The panel’s mandate was changed in November so that instead of issuing recommendations to guide Parliament in writing a law to regulate assisted suicide, the panel was simply charged to summarize the input it received.
  • Over the course of its work, the Panel held meetings with 73 individual experts in Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. From 20 October to 6 November 2015, the Panel consulted directly with 92 representatives of interveners, medical authorities and stakeholders from 46 Canadian organizations. In addition, the Panel received and considered 321 written submissions from civil-society organizations, academics and individual citizens.
  • To solicit opinions online, the Panel posted a questionnaire on its website from 20 August to 23 November 2015. In total, 14,949 individuals completed the questionnaire. The total figure included a representative sample of 2,066 Canadians.
  • Participants in the online survey expressed high levels of support for:
    • A national oversight body for physician-assisted dying (>70%)
    • A national strategy on palliative and end-of-life care (>76%)
    • A comprehensive national home-care strategy (>78%)
    • A national strategy on disability supports (>80%)
    • Palliative-care education for all healthcare providers (>84%)
  • Overall the report was balanced, which made it strikingly different from the provincial expert panel report.
  • It’s very unfortunate that the report didn’t offer any recommendations, since the committee looked at such a large body of information
  • We hope that the panel members will testify before the joint parliamentary committee to offer some specific suggestions based on their panel’s work


  • According to its website: “The Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying was appointed to review the report of the External Panel on Options for a Legislative Response to Carter v. Canada and other recent relevant consultation activities and studies, to consult with Canadians, experts and stakeholders, and make recommendations on the framework of a federal response on physician-assisted dying that respects the Constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the priorities of Canadians.
  • The Committee held its first meeting on January 18 and must make its report by February 26, 2016.
  • Those who want to meet with the Committee had until yesterday to submit a request.  Filing a request is not a guarantee that a person will be heard by the committee.
  • The four-month extension granted by the Supreme Court and the Special joint committee’s six week timeline raises the question, how can parliament carefully craft a regulatory scheme if they’re rushing to beat the clock?  Many of the people on this committee are first-term MPs and have no knowledge of this dossier.  How are they expected to gain the necessary expertise and insight over the next four weeks to make sound recommendations that will govern the life and death of Canadians for decades to come?