MONTREAL — The Supreme Court of British Columbia on Friday said a ban against physician-assisted suicides was unconstitutional.
The ruling related to the case of a 64-year-old woman named Gloria Taylor who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease, and was one of five plaintiffs seeking to overturn legislation that prohibits doctor-assisted suicides.
Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosism, is a devastating neurodegenerative disorder that progressively robs patients of control over their bodies.
In a 395-page ruling, Judge Lynn Smith said that provisions of the Criminal Code that prohibit physician-assisted death were invalid and discriminatory, and "unjustifiably infringe the equality rights" of the plaintiffs in the case.
The ruling was suspended for one year, Justice Smith indicated, giving parliament 12 months to draft and consider the legislation. But the judge granted an exemption to Taylor that allows her to proceed with physician-assisted death, under certain conditions.
"The impact of that distinction is felt particularly acutely by persons such as Ms. Taylor, who are grievously and irremediably ill, physically disabled or soon to become so, mentally competent and who wish to have some control over their circumstances at the end of their lives," Smith wrote.
Smith stipulated that her ruling would only apply to "competent, fully informed, non-ambivalent adult persons who personally (not through a substituted decision-maker) request physician-assisted death, are free from coercion and undue influence and are not clinically depressed."
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition qualified the decision as "naive" and vowed to appeal the ruling.
Photo of Victoria, capital of British Columbia, by Brandon Godfrey [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons