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BC Supreme Court finds ban on doctor-assisted suicide unconstitutional

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled today that the current law banning doctor-assisted suicide in Canada is unconstitutional, siding with the group claiming the law goes against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The challenge was lead by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and includes plaintiffs like Gloria Taylor, who has terminal diseases and is seeking the right to choose the method of her death. Taylor has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease.

BCCLA lawyer Joseph Arvay said at a press conference today that the case was "all about Gloria having the choice for physician-assisted death," and that he doesn't know what her plans are now that she has that choice.

Arvay said Taylor "cried with a great sense of relief" when she heard the court's decision.

"She is very very grateful to the court that [it] has given her this right, that she believes is her constitutional right," Arvay said. "The court has said that is exactly what it is."

In her decision, Justice Lynn Smith wrote that the current provisions infringe on the right of Taylor and the other plaintiffs. She wrote that the "very severe adverse effects" of the legislation on people in Taylor's situation are not outweighed by the benefits.

The court suggested that the current law could be replaced with an "almost-absolute prohibition" that would include a system of exceptions for people who are "grievously and irremediably ill" adults.

The court gave Parliament one year to create legislation that reflects today's decision, and also granted an exception in Taylor's case, allowing her to apply for physician-assisted suicide before legislation is created in order for her to "have an effective remedy."

Today's decision comes after a long history of national debate on the issue. In 1993, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against the right to assisted suicide in the case of Sue Rodriguez, who also had ALS.

Arvay hopes the federal government will not appeal the case, and said that the decision is one "which demands the highest respect of the government of Canada."

A spokesperson for the federal government told the Globe and Mail that officials "needed time to read the extensive ruling, but that they would be reviewing the judgement."

Hanah Redman is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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