In Canada, aiding or abetting a person to commit suicide is a criminal offence pursuant to section 241(b) of the Criminal Code. Section 14 of the Code says that no person may consent to death being inflicted on them. Together, these provisions prohibit the provision of assistance in dying in Canada. This applies to all persons in Canada including people who are grievously and irremediably ill.
The constitutionality of the Criminal Code provisions prohibiting assistance in dying were recently challenged and decided upon by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of R. v. Taylor. Ms. Taylor, was unable to request a physician-assisted death because of the Criminal Code prohibition. This left her with what she described as the “cruel choice” between killing herself while she was still physically capable of doing so, or giving up the ability to exercise any control over the manner and timing of her death. The question in the Taylor case was whether the criminal prohibition that puts a person to this choice violates her Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person (s. 7) and to equal treatment by and under the law (s. 15). The Supreme Court ruled that section 241(b) and section 14 of the Criminal Code unjustifiably infringed s. 7 of the Charter and are of no force or effect to the extent that they prohibit physician-assisted death for a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition. The declaration of invalidity was suspended for 12 months. Thus aiding or abetting a person to commit suicide is a criminal offence pursuant to section 241(b) of the Criminal Code until February 5, 2016. If the government does not change the current law within that time, then section 241(b) of the Criminal Code will no longer be of any force or effect as the declaration of invalidity for twelve months will have passed.
The relevant sections of the Criminal Code of Canada as they pertain to suicide and assisted suicide are as follows:
· s. 14. No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on him, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person by whom death may be inflicted on the person by whom consent is given.
- s. 21. (1) Every one is a party to an offence who (b) does or omits to do anything for the purpose of aiding any person to commit it; or (2) Where two or more persons form an intention in common to carry out an unlawful purpose and to assist each other therein and any one of them, in carrying out the common purpose, commits an offence, each of them who knew or ought to have known that the commission of the offence would be a probable consequence of carrying out the common purpose is a party to that offence.
- s. 22. (1) Where a person counsels another person to be a party to an offence and that other person is afterwards a party to that offence, the person who counselled is a party to that offence, notwithstanding that the offence was committed in a way different from that which was counselled. (2) Every one who counsels another person to be a party to an offence is a party to every offence that the other commits in consequence of the counselling that the person who counselled knew or ought to have known was likely to be committed in consequence of the counselling. (3) For the purposes of this Act, “counsel” includes procure, solicit or incite.
- s. 222. (1) A person commits homicide when, directly or indirectly, by any means, he causes the death of a human being. (2) Homicide is culpable or not culpable. (3) Homicide that is not culpable is not an offence. (4) Culpable homicide is murder or manslaughter or infanticide. (5) A person commits culpable homicide when he causes the death of a human being, (a) by means of an unlawful act;
- 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.