Timeline: Assisted death in Canada

WATCH ABOVE: Helping someone take their own life is a crime in Canada, punishable by up to 14 years in prison. But any day now, that could change. The Supreme Court is deciding if the law against assisted suicide is unconstitutional and should be struck down. Until and unless that happens, some Canadians say they’ll be forced to go underground to help a loved one end their life. And as Sophie Lui reports, that can have devastating consequences.

Suicide is removed from the Criminal Code and no longer considered a criminal offence. Assisted suicide is still considered a crime.

The Quebec Superior Court rules in the case of “Nancy B.,” a woman suffering from an incurable disease, that turning off her respirator at her request would not be a criminal offence.

August 1992
Toronto nurse, Scott Mataya, originally charged with first degree murder in the “mercy killing” of a terminally ill patient, receives a suspended sentence and is ordered to surrender his nursing license.

READ MORE: Life, Death and the Law: Families making end-of-life decisions

The Supreme Court of Canada hears the case of Sue Rodriguez, a terminally ill woman, who challenges the prohibition of assisted suicide as a contravention of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In a 5 to 4 decision, the Court upholds the provision in the Criminal Code of Canada.

February 1994
Sue Rodriguez commits suicide with the assistance of a physician. Her death is investigated by police, but no criminal charges are laid.

May 1997
Dr. Nancy Morrison is charged with first degree murder of a terminally ill patient who had been removed from active life support. In November 1998, a Nova Scotia judge finds that there is not sufficient evidence for a jury to convict Dr. Morrison.

May 1998
Dr. Maurice Genereaux is sentenced to two years less a day and three years probation for providing drugs to two non-terminal patients so that they might commit suicide. The sentence is confirmed by the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1999.

September 2004
Marielle Houle is charged with aiding and abetting the suicide of her 36-year-old son, Charles Fariala.

November 2004
Evelyn Martens is acquitted of aiding and abetting the suicides of two women that took place in 2002.

July 2005
Andre Bergeron is charged with attempted murder of his spouse, Marielle Gagnon, who had Friederich’s Ataxia, a degenerative, incurable disease. In October 2006, Bergeron is sentenced to three years probation for aggravated assault.

WATCH BELOW: Dr. Will Johnston, chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of BC, wants Canadians to know that for every illness, every symptom, there are solutions for living as comfortably as possible, even in the final moments of life.

January 2005
Marielle Houle pleads guilty to aiding and abetting the suicide of her son, and is sentenced to three years probation.

Sept. 2006
Raymond Kirk pleads guilty to aiding the suicide of his ailing wife. The Ontario Court of Justice sentences him to three years probation.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) files a lawsuit, Carter v. Canada, in the British Columbia Supreme Court to challenge the laws that make it a crime for physicians to help competent, seriously ill individuals, end their life at a time of their choosing.

June 15, 2012
The British Columbia Supreme Court strikes down the prohibition against physician-assisted suicide in Carter v. Canada, calling the current law discriminatory, disproportionate and overbroad. Justice Lynn Smith suspends her ruling for a period of one year in order to give Parliament time to draft legislation with her ruling in mind.

July 13, 2012
The Federal government announces its appeal in the BC Supreme Court’s ruling in Carter v. Canada.

Oct. 25, 2012
The Federal government files its legal argument for appealing Justice Lynn Smith’s ruling in June 2012, arguing that the purpose of the current legislation is “to protect the vulnerable, who might be induced in moments of weakness to commit suicide,” that “it is a reflection of the state’s policy that the inherent value of all human life should not be depreciated by allowing one person to take another’s life.” It also said that the BC Supreme Court had no right to attempt to overrule the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in the 1993 Rodriguez case.

Dec. 10, 2012
The British Columbia Court of Appeal announces it has scheduled a hearing for the appeal in March, 2013.

March 18-22, 2013
Federal government’s appeal of Carter v. Canada case is heard by BC Court of Appeal.

Oct. 10, 2013
The BC Court of Appeal overturns the BC Supreme Court ruling in Carter v. Canada. The Chief Justice of B.C. dissents, agreeing with the BCCLA that the laws were unconstitutional and that the evidence since Rodriguez shows that safeguards can be created to protect vulnerable individuals. The majority ruling determines the court could not reverse the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1993 decision in Rodriguez v. B.C. BCCLA argues that effectively leaves the case for the Supreme Court to sort out.

Oct. 15, 2014
The BCCLA gets leave to appeal in Carter v. Canada, taking the case to Canada’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Canada. It argues that the right to control the circumstances of one’s death is integral to the life, liberty, and security of gravely ill Canadians. The BCCLA argues that section 241 of the Criminal Code violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

16×9’s “Life, Death and the Law” airs Saturday at 7pm.


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