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Is it a Crime to Assist Someone With Their Suicide?

Physician assisted suicide is not a crime in Canada.

Physician assisted suicide is not a crime in Canada.

 

  • The common law crimes of attempting suicide and of assisting suicide were codified in Canada when Parliament enacted the Criminal Code 1892.
  • In 1972, Parliament repealed the offence of attempting suicide from the Criminal Code. It was argued that a legal deterrent was unnecessary.
  • The prohibition on assisting suicide remained, as s 241 of the Criminal Code:

Counselling or aiding suicide

241. Every one who

(a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or

(b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide,

whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

 

  • Until June 17, 2016, new federal legislation came into force creating a regulations for medical assistance in dying in Canada.
  • Under this legislation, medical assistance in dying is legal if the eligibility criteria are met and the procedural safeguards are followed.  The eligibility criteria are as follows:

 

241.2 (1) A person may receive medical assistance in dying only if they meet all of the following criteria:

(a) they are eligible — or, but for any applicable minimum period of residence or waiting period, would be

eligible — for health services funded by a government in Canada;

(b) they are at least 18 years of age and capable of making decisions with respect to their health;

(c) they have a grievous and irremediable medical condition;

(d) they have made a voluntary request for medical assistance in dying that, in particular, was not made as a result of external pressure; and

(e) they give informed consent to receive medical assistance in dying after having been informed of the means that are available to relieve their suffering, including palliative care.

 

(2) A person has a grievous and irremediable medical condition only if they meet all of the following criteria:

(a) they have a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability;

(b) they are in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability;

(c) that illness, disease or disability or that state of decline causes them enduring physical or psychological

suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable;

and

(d) their natural death has become reasonably foreseeable, taking into account all of their medical circumstances, without a prognosis necessarily having been made as to the specific length of time that they have remaining.

The key procedural safeguards are as follows:

(3) Before a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner provides a person with medical assistance in dying, the medical practitioner or nurse practitioner must

(a) be of the opinion that the person meets all of the criteria set out in subsection (1);

(b) ensure that the person’s request for medical assistance in dying was

(i) made in writing and signed and dated by the person or by another person under subsection (4),

and

(ii) signed and dated after the person was informed by a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner that

the person has a grievous and irremediable medical condition;

(c) be satisfied that the request was signed and dated by the person — or by another person under subsection (4) — before two independent witnesses who then also signed and dated the request;

(d) ensure that the person has been informed that they may, at any time and in any manner, withdraw

their request;

(e) ensure that another medical practitioner or nurse practitioner has provided a written opinion confirming that the person meets all of the criteria set out in

subsection (1);

(f) be satisfied that they and the other medical practitioner or nurse practitioner referred to in paragraph

(e) are independent;

(g) ensure that there are at least 10 clear days between the day on which the request was signed by or on behalf of the person and the day on which the medical assistance in dying is provided or — if they and the

other medical practitioner or nurse practitioner referred to in paragraph (e) are both of the opinion that

the person’s death, or the loss of their capacity to provide informed consent, is imminent — any shorter period that the first medical practitioner or nurse practitioner considers appropriate in the circumstances;

(h) immediately before providing the medical assistance in dying, give the person an opportunity to withdraw their request and ensure that the person gives express consent to receive medical assistance in dying;

and

(i) if the person has difficulty communicating, take all necessary measures to provide a reliable means by which the person may understand the information that is provided to them and communicate their decision.

 

15 Nov 2016

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