A chronology of major events in Canada’s debate about the right to die

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A chronology of major events in Canada’s debate about the right to die


1983 The Law Reform Commission of Canada recommends against legalizing or decriminalizing voluntary, active euthanasia. It also recommends that aiding suicide not be decriminalized.

March 1991 The first private member’s bills on euthanasia are introduced in Parliament. They are not passed.

January 1992 Quebec Superior Court rules in case of Nancy B. that turning off her respirator at her request would not be a criminal offence.

August 1992 Toronto nurse Scott Mataya is charged with first-degree murder in death of a terminally ill patient. He pleads guilty to a lesser charge of administering a noxious substance, receives a suspended sentence and loses his nursing licence.

1992 Sue Rodriguez, a Victoria woman with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), files suit in B.C. Supreme Court challenging laws against assisted suicide. The court upholds the law.

Sept. 30, 1993 In a 5-4 decision, Supreme Court of Canada dismisses Rodriguez’s appeal, upholding the blanket ban on assisted death.

Feb. 12, 1994 Rodriguez dies at home with the help of an anonymous doctor.

November 1994 Robert Latimer is convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his disabled 12-year-old daughter and sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 10 years.

May 6, 1997 Halifax’s Dr. Nancy Morrison is charged with first-degree murder in death of a terminally ill patient. In February 1998, a judge declines to commit Morrison to stand trial.

1997 Oregon passes a bill allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending doses of medication to terminally ill patients.

December 1997 Latimer, who’d won a new trial, is convicted again of second-degree murder, and sentenced to two years less a day, notwithstanding the minimum sentence of life without parole for 10 years.

May 1998 Dr. Maurice Genereux is sentenced to two years less a day and three years’ probation for providing drugs to two non-terminal patients so they might commit suicide. The next year, that sentence was confirmed by the Ontario Court of Appeal.


November 1998 Saskatchewan Court of Appeal confirms the Latimer conviction and imposes a sentence of life with no eligibility for parole for 10 years. Ruling upheld by the Supreme Court in January 2001. See page 19

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Tories may line up behind death bill


OTTAWA— Conservative Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the government may need a full year to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision to allow physician-assisted death.

But some Conservatives may line up behind a colleague’s private member’s bill that creates a federal system for assisted suicide, according to a former Tory cabinet member.

MacKay told reporters Friday morning that the government needs to protect “all Canadians’ rights and interests” after the Supreme Court unanimously ruled the prohibition against physician-assisted suicide for irremediably ill patients breached charter rights.

“There is a wide and obviously very emotional range of perspectives on this issue, but it has very far-reaching implications, so we intend to take the time to look at this decision carefully (and) thoughtfully,” MacKay said.

The ruling presents a political problem for the Conservatives in an election year. They are now required to craft a response to legal suicide for Canadians suffering through debilitating, incurable illness — something much of their social conservative base is thoroughly opposed to.

But Peter Kent, who served in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet from 2008 to 2013, said he hopes MPs will vote their conscience, and that the right to die should be a “non-partisan” issue.

Kent said some of his colleagues — as many as “dozens” — may line up behind Tory MP Steven Fletcher’s bill that would create federal rules around doctor-assisted death.

“I think (after the Supreme Court decision) the government should, and I’m sure they will, look at Steven’s bill,” Kent said.

But other Conservatives criticized the Supreme Court, saying such laws should be left up to Parliament.

Harold Albrecht, a Conservative MP from Kitchener, said the existing law was clear and it should be up to Parliament, not courts, to make the final decision on how the issue is handled.

The NDP called on the government to abide by the decision and begin consulting with Canadians on medically assisted suicide, while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the decision is “very much grounded” in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“The charter is what the Liberal party certainly stands for and stands to uphold,” he said.

At Queen’s Park, Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur and Health Minister Eric Hoskins issued a brief statement welcoming the court’s direction on the issue and saying the province was reviewing the implications of the ruling.

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