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Assisted dying
  1. Sophie Brannan,
  2. Ruth Campbell,
  3. Martin Davies,
  4. Veronica English,
  5. Rebecca Mussell,
  6. Julian C Sheather
  1. Department of Medical Ethics, British Medical Association, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Martin Davies, Department of Medical Ethics, British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9JP, UK; mdavies{at}

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Assisted dying


As previously reported here,1 in February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Carter v Canada that the country's prohibition on assisted dying violated constitutional rights.2 The Court suspended its ruling for 12 months to give governments time to enact legislation consistent with its decision and, following an appeal to the Court in January 2016, granted an extension to give governments until 6 June 2016 to act.3

In May 2016, a bill was passed in the Canadian House of Commons which would permit medical aid in dying for competent adults with ‘a grievous and irremediable medical condition’ causing ‘intolerable suffering’, and whose ‘natural death’ has become ‘reasonably foreseeable’.4 Medical aid in dying includes administration by a medical or nurse practitioner of a lethal substance, or the prescription or provision of a lethal substance to an individual so that they might self-administer.5

At the time of writing, the bill had not completed its passage through the Senate. A significant amendment by the Senate had, however, removed the requirement for the individuals to be close to death, thus widening the eligibility criteria to include individuals who do not have a terminal illness, and bringing it in line with the wording of the Court's judgement in Carter.6

Once the bill has been passed by the Senate, it will return to the Commons where Members of Parliament (MPs) will consider the amendments made. No date has yet been set for when the legislative process will be finished and the bill passed into law.

As the Supreme Court's deadline was not met, in the absence of legislation physician-assisted dying is governed by the Supreme Court's ruling, supplemented by guidelines from provincial and territorial medical regulatory bodies.7

Assisted dying legislation has been in force in the province of Quebec …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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