Euthanasia is the act of intentionally, knowingly and directly causing the death of a patient. If someone other than the person who dies performs the last act, euthanasia has occurred. For example, if a person administers a lethal injection or puts a plastic bag over a patient’s head to suffocate him/her, euthanasia has taken place. Euthanasia is sometimes called aid-in-dying, mercy killing, death with dignity, etc.
What is Assisted Suicide?
Assisted suicide is the act of intentionally, knowingly and directly providing the means of death to another person so that the person can use that means to commit suicide. If the person who dies performs the last act, assisted suicide has occurred.
For example, if a doctor writes a prescription for an intentional overdose of drugs for a patient to use to commit suicide and if the patient who dies performs the last act (the act of swallowing), assisted suicide has taken place.
Assisted-suicide is sometimes called “aid-in-dying,” “death with dignity,” “physician-assisted death,” etc.
We believe that neither consent nor motive changes the reality that both assisted suicide and euthanasia involve killing another human being. Killing the patient should never be the treatment for suffering.
Dr. Paul V. Adams of Manitoba Physicians for Life, describes what many view as the fundamental moral or ethical difference between acts of withholding and withdrawing and acts of euthanasia:
There is an essential difference between causing one to die, which is euthanasia, helping one to die, which would be assisted suicide, and allowing natural death to occur, which I referred to as withholding or withdrawing treatment. Frequently, there is confusion regarding the third category, that is, allowing natural death to occur when death is inevitable, and there is no clinical or ethical reason to intervene. This is not euthanasia. It is both morally and ethically acceptable and it should continue to be legally acceptable.
Dr. Paul V. Adams of Manitoba Physicians for Life, Witness to the Special Senate Committee, 1995
An advance directive is a document by which a person makes provisions for health care decisions in the event that, in the future, he/she becomes unable to make those decisions. There are two main types of advance directive – the “Living Will” and the “Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.” There are also combination advance directives which are hybrid documents that combine elements of the Living Will with those of the Durable Power of Attorney. To be valid, an advance directive must comply with the law of the province in which it was signed.
A Living Will is the oldest type of health care advance directive. It is a signed, witnessed (or notarized) document. Most Living Wills instruct an attending physician to withhold or withdraw medical interventions from its signer if he/she is in a terminal or irreversible condition and is unable to make decisions about medical treatment.
Since an attending physician who may be unfamiliar with the signer’s wishes and values has the power and authority to carry out the signer’s directive, certain terms contained in the document may be interpreted by the physician in a manner that was not intended by the signer. Family members and others who are familiar with the signer’s values and wishes have no legal standing to interpret the meaning of the Living Will.
A Living Will may also be called a “Directive,” “Declaration,” “Individual Health Care Instruction,” etc.
Alliance for Life Ontario has made available the resource, Advance Directives and Living Wills, What are the Pitfalls, An Ontario, Canada Perspective and The LyfePRESERVER, a Protective Advance Directive and Power of Attorney for Personal Care. To order, select the item and click on the Buy Now Button. You do not need a Pay Pal account. Simply use your credit card.
What is the law in Canada concerning euthanasia and assisted suicide?
The Canadian Criminal Code does not address euthanasia. Killing a person is addressed under Homicide Section 222, Murder Section 229, Manslaughter Section 224, Punishment for Murder, Section 235, and Punishment for Manslaughter Section 236. Assisted Suicide is directly addressed under Counselling or Aiding Suicide, Section 241 and Administering Noxious Thing, Section 245.
Click here for Relevant Provisions of the Criminal Code and the Civil Code: regarding Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, Withholding and Withdrawing Treatment and Pain Control and Sedation Practices
Click here for Chronology of Major Canadian Developments and Events, 1972-1995 (Please note that update for 1996- present will be forthcoming.)
** The following links provide a comprehensive overview of the events and opinions surrounding the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide, withdrawal and withholding of treatment, pain management and sedation. Alliance for Life Ontario does not necessarily agree with everything presented in these reports. We provide them for your research.
Click here for the Senate Committee Report, 1995 The Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Of Life and Death – Final Report, June 1995
Click here for the Final Senate Committee Report, 2000, Quality End-of-Life Care: The Right of Every Canadian Subcommittee to update “Of Life and Death.”
There currently is a bill before the house to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia. Click here to see the Bill C-384, An act to amend the Criminal Code(right to die with dignity). Click here (pdf) for analysis of Bill C-384.
Click here for a summary of Bill C-384
Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation
Not Dead Yet
Canadian Physicians for Life
International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force
Human Life Matters
Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation
EUTHANASIA – TIME LINE
1982: Dr. Nacham Gal accused of mercy killing in the death of Candace Taschuk, a severely disabled newborn who died from injection of a massive dose of morphine. He left the country and never came before a court.
1983 March: The BC Supreme Court overturns a lower court’s decision to allow parents to refuse life saving medical treatment for their handicapped child. (Stephen Dawson case)
1983: In USA, Baby Jane Doe, a newborn baby with Down’s Syndrome is starved at the request of her parents and with court approval in spite of many parents wanting to adopt her.
1985: on”See Landmark Euthanasia Cases” USA
1990: Ontario Norm Sterling M.O.L. introduces Bills 132, 131 into the Ontario legislature. These would have given legal sanction and force to Living Wills and Power of Attorney for cessation of treatment.
1991 March: Robert Wenman MP introduces private member’s Bill concerning refusal and cessation of medical treatment for terminally ill patients.
1991 May: Chris Axworthy MP introduces private member’s Bill permitting active euthanasia upon request (defeated Nov. l991). Norm Sterling withdraws his Bills 131 and 132 in Ontario in deference to the federal initiative.
1990-1991: A B.C. doctor found to have given overdoses of morphine to two elderly patients is neither prosecuted nor censored by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC.
1991: The Right to Die Society of Canada is founded to advocate repeal of laws which forbid euthanasia and assisted suicide.
1992 January: Nancy B., a young woman in Montreal, bedridden and on a respirator after suffering from Guillian Barre syndrome and who had gone to court after hospital staff refused to remove her respirator, is given permission to do so. She decided in February to cease treatment and dies. (Pro life people issue statements pointing out she was exercising her common law right to refuse treatment–this was not a case of euthanasia.)
1992 January: Dr. Jack Kevorkian charged with murder in US. He’s been killing people with his death machine for at least five years. He is acquitted repeatedly after further charges over the years.
1992 January: In Edmonton, a child who is still alive but brain dead, Jason Carpenter, is at centre of a case where the foster parents are charged with murder (in spite of the fact their foster child is still alive.) Charges are later stayed.
1992 February: Bill C 203 is quashed, but the sponsor Robert Wenman MP states he will reintroduce the Bill after modifying it somewhat.
1992 Fall: Sue Rodriguez of BC, suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) enters into an agreement with John Hofsess, president of the Right to Die Society whereby he agrees to assist Sue in terminating her life. She petitions to the BC court for the legal right to have assistance in ending her life, asking the court to find section 241 of the Criminal Code unconstitutional because it contravenes her “right” to control what happens to her body. Her petition is denied. Appeal is made to BC Supreme Court.
1993 February: Ian Waddell (NDP) MP introduces a bill which urges the government to decriminalize assisting a suicide.
1993 March: The BC Court of Appeal finds Section 241 of the Criminal Code a necessary protection for the weakest in society and a “reasonable limit” on personal freedom; Rodriguez appeals to the Supreme Court. (Section 241 makes illegal either counselling for, aiding and abetting a suicide).
1993 September 30: The Supreme Court of Canada in a five to four decision dismisses Sue Rodriguez’ appeal to be allowed to have the assistance of a physician in killing herself. In the wake of this divided decision, the government sets up the Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide to advise the government on the need (or not) to change Canada’s legislation.
1993 October 24: A Saskatchewan farmer, Robert Latimer admits to the police that he took the life of his 12 year old daughter Tracy by carbon monoxide poisoning. Tracy had severe cerebral palsy and a dislocated hip which caused her pain. He is arrested and charged with murder.
1994 February 12: Sue Rodriguez dies of an assisted suicide. A doctor is present but the identity not divulged. Svend Robinson, MP admits to assisting at Sue’s death.
1994: The Senate Committee holds public hearings in major centres of Canada. A major portion of the submission opposes the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide and requests more public support for palliative care.
1994 November 16: Robert Latimer is found guilty of second degree murder even though the premeditation involved in his killing Tracy should have merited a first degree conviction. He is sentenced to the mandatory minimum ten years in jail. He appeals to Saskatchewan Court of Appeal.
1995 June: The report of the Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide is presented. On assisted suicide, the majority decision is to make no change to c.c. section 241. On both “voluntary” and “non voluntary” euthanasia the majority agrees to retain these as criminal acts. However, the Committee recommends a third category of murder where either voluntary or non voluntary killing is carried out on compassionate grounds.
1995 July: The Saskatchewan Court of Appeals upholds Latimer’s conviction and sentence. Appeal is made to the Supreme Court on grounds that jurors had been asked their views on abortion and euthanasia prior to being selected.
1995 October: Mary Jane Fogarty of Nova Scotia is found guilty of aiding and abetting the suicide of her friend Brenda Barnes, who had a history of mental instability. Barnes had died in March of 1994 after administration of an overdose of insulin. (She was not diabetic but Fogarty was). Fogarty was found guilty but received only a suspended sentence, three years probation and an order to carry out 300 hours of community service.
1996 February: Supreme Court agrees to hear Latimer appeal.
1996 March: A U.S. Federal Appeals Court in Washington state rules that U.S. citizens have a constitutionally protected right to “determine the time and manner of one’s own death”. Kevorkian, on trial again in Michigan, is acquitted because of this ruling.
1996 September: A terminally ill man with prostate cancer becomes the first person to die under Australia’s assisted-suicide law after a doctor administers a lethal dose of barbiturates.
1997 January: A woman with a rare form of skin cancer becomes the second person to die under Australia’s assisted-suicide law after she uses a laptop computer to give herself a fatal dose of drugs.
1997 February 6: Robert Latimer is awarded a new trial in the killing of his severely disabled daughter Tracy by the Supreme Court of Canada. Latimer had been convicted of second-degree murder during his first trial but the Supreme Court ruled that errs by the RCMP and the prosecutor necessitated the second trial.
1997 May 6: Halifax police arrest Dr. Nancy Morrison and charge her with first degree murder in the death of Paul Mills who died at the Victoria General Hospital after a long battle with esophogal cancer.
1997 March: The Australia Senate overturns the country’s assisted-suicide law after the House of Representatives had done so by a wide margin.
1997 July: Ontario’s chief coroner, Dr. James Cairns, claims home-based mercy killings are on the rise. Cairns said mercy killing is “more common than we recognize” but he was unable to provide any figures to support his statement.
1997 July 26: The U.S. Supreme Court has left decisions concerning the right to physician-assisted suicide up to the country’s fifty states. The court said terminally ill Americans do not have a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide, but it did not bar states from acting on their own to legalize the process.
1997 September 24: Britain’s leading pediatric group issues guidelines advising doctors when they should let seriously ill children die.
1997 October 27: Robert Latimer’s second trial opens in Battleford Saskatchewan.
1997 November 5: Robert Latimer is convicted of second-degree murder following his second trial for the death of his daughter Tracy.
1997 November 6: The charge against Halifax doctor Nancy Morrison is reduced to manslaughter. Dr. Morrison is said to have administered a medication “outside ethical and acceptable medical practice” to terminal cancer patient Paul Mills.
1997 December 1: Mr. Justice G.E. (Ted) Noble waives Canada’s mandatory penalty of life imprisonment for murder and instead sentences Robert Latimer to two years less a day for killing his disabled daughter Tracy.
1997 December 19: Robert Latimer is granted bail pending an appeal of his conviction by his lawyer.
1998 February 27: Charges against Dr. Nancy Morrison in the death of Paul Mills are dismissed.
1998 July: Christine Malevre, a nurse in a Paris-area hospital, admits to helping approximately 30 terminally ill patients die.
1998 October 15: Rob Dillman, secretary general of the Royal Dutch Medical Association, speaking at a medical conference in Ottawa reports that approximately 40 per cent of deaths through euthanasia in the Netherlands are not reported to authorities even though the practice is treated as legal there but is officially illegal.
1998 November: Two clinical ethicists from St. Boniface General Hospital say some Manitoba doctors have been issuing Do Not Resuscitate orders without telling the patients or their families. The issue surfaced when the wife of Andrew Sawatzky took a Winnipeg geriatric hospital to court after a doctor issued a DNR order against the wishes of Mrs. Sawatzky. Mr. Sawatzky suffers from Parkinson’s disease.
1998 November 20: A Nova Scotia judge dismisses an attempt by the Nova Scotia crown attorney to revive the criminal case against Dr. Nancy Morrison.
1998 November 22: The CBS television network news magazine show “60 Minutes” broadcasts a video supplied by Jack Kevorkian where he injects a terminally ill man with a lethal dose of drugs and challenges the authorities to charge him. The victim, Thomas Youk, suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Several CBS affiliates refuse to air the Kevorkian segment of the broadcast. The broadcast had an U.S. audience estimated at 15.6 million viewers.
1998 November 23: The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal rules that Robert Latimer must serve at least 10 years in prison for the killing of his disabled daughter Tracy setting aside the two-year term handed down by Justice Ted Noble. Latimer and his lawyer plan to take their next appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
1998 November 25: Jack Kevorkian is charged with first-degree murder, criminal assistance to a suicide and delivery of a controlled substance in connection with the videotaped mercy-killing of Thomas Youk.
1998 December 10: Jack Kevorkian is ordered to stand trial on murder charges.
1999 March 22: Jack Kevorkian’s trial for the videotaped murder of Thomas Youk opens in Pontiac Michigan. Kevorkian acts as his own lawyer in spite of advice from Judge Jessica Copper not to do so.
1999 March 26: Jack Kevorkian is convicted of second-degree murder.
1999 March 30: Dr. Nancy Morrison accepts a reprimand in the death of Paul Mills admitting she erred in giving an injected that hastened the man’s death.
1999 April 13: Jack Kevorkian, who videotaped himself giving a man a lethal injection and dared prosecutors to stop him, is sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison by a judge who told him: “Sir consider yourself stopped.”
1999 May: A Quebec coroner’s inquest is investigating the death of Herman Krausz at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital. The hospital took him off a respirator against the wishes of the family and Mr. Krausz. The inquest reveals that it is hospital policy to make such life and death decisions regardless of the wishes of the family.
1999 May 6: The Supreme Court of Canada agrees to hear Robert Latimer’s appeal of his conviction and sentencing for the death of his disabled daughter Tracy.
1999 May 12: Edson Izidoro Guimaraes, a nurses aide in Brazil, confesses to dozens and possibly hundreds of murders of intensive care patients while he was on duty.
1999 June 23: A study reveals that many Canadian physicians strongly support legalized assisted suicide and would wish it for themselves and relatives but wouldn’t include it in their practice.
1999 July 10: The state of Michigan wants to seize more than $100,000 in assets and artwork from Jack Kevorkian to pay for his time behind bars.
1999 August 12: The Netherlands proposed euthanasia law would make children as young as 12 eligible for the procedure with the consent of their parents. The Dutch government later removes the clause from the bill.
1999 October: A Princeton University professor teaches that it is ethically acceptable to kill disabled children at, or soon after, birth. A new born, he argues, does not have the “mental capacity” to be designated a sentient being, and it has “never been competent” in the legal or ethical sense.
1999 October: The U.S. House of Representatives votes to overturn an Oregon law permitting physician-assisted suicides. But the bill, which passed 271-156 also gives doctors more leeway to prescribe narcotics to reduce suffering in seriously ill patients.
1999 November: Canadian right-to-die advocates unveil a “Debreather” a homemade gas mask and canister that recirculates the wearer’s breath until he or she dies from oxygen deprivation.
1999 November 15: Orville Lynn Majors, a nurse in Brazil Indiana, is convicted of giving fatal injections to six patients in his care between the ages of 56 and 89 and is sentenced to 360 years in prison.
1999 November 16: Jack Kevorkian seeks an appeal because, as his own lawyer, he did a lousy job.
2000 January: A video guide to suicide is released by Derek Humphrey author of the book “Final Exit.” In the video, Humphrey lists the top three lethal drugs in order of potency and offers tips on where to find them with or without a doctor’s prescription.
2000 March 20: A retired Austrian doctor accused in the Nazi-ordered deaths of handicapped children during the Second World War goes on trial. Heinrich Gross faces charges of complicity to murder in a child euthanasia program ordered by the Nazis at the Vienna clinic where he was in charge. He is charged in the deaths of nine handicapped children in the summer of 1944.
2000 April 11: Jack Kevorkian is awarded the Gleitsman Foundation Citizen Activist Award for Humanitarianism. The award is accepted by the widow of Thomas Youk whose assisted-suicide in 1998 led to Kevorkian’s prison sentence. The award comes with a $100,000 prize.
2000 September 26: At a international gathering of palliative care experts in Montreal, Dr. Balfour Mount, (founder of the palliative care movement in Canada) states that reversing laws prohibiting euthanasia would be “catastrophic.” Most palliative care advocates fear that legalizing euthanasia and physician suicide open the door to potential abuse and runs counter to the doctor’s role of relieving suffering, not promoting death.
2000 November 7: Voters in Maine reject a physician-assisted proposal on their ballots.
2000 November 7: The Alberta government will change a museum exhibit on Jesus Christ that use pictures of Robert Latimer after a disabled rights advocacy group complained the images promote the murder of children. After meeting with a disabled rights group, the government agreed to remove the pictures of Latimer and replace them with new footage that paints a more critical view of Tracy Latimer’s death.
2000 November 28: The Dutch parliament approves a bill to allow euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide making it the first country to formally legalize the practice. The bill passed by a vote of 104-40.
2000 December 6: Dr. L.J. Dragovic, chief forensic pathologist and chief medical examiner for Michigan’s Oakland county reports that only 17 of the 69 people who committed suicide with the help of Jack Kevorkian were terminally ill. Dragovic’s findings were published in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.
2001 January 18: The Supreme Court of Canada rules unanimously that Robert Latimer must serve at least 10 years in prison for the murder of his severely disabled daughter. In its 37-page decision, the court said there were alternatives open to Latimer far less devastating and irrevocable than his decision to gas Tracy Latimer in order to end a life of excruciating pain and disfigurement. Robert Latimer’s last remaining appeal would be to ask for the federal cabinet to exercise the royal prerogative of mercy and grant him a pardon halfway through his sentence.
2001 March 20: In Montreal, Rachel Capra Craig, 46, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of her 14-year-old handicapped daughter who consumed what police called a “poison cocktail.” Chelsea Craig suffered from Rett’s syndrome which the Canadian Medical Association defines as a brain disorder that affects only girls.
2001 July 5: A woman in Edmonton alleges that her husband was euthanized in an Alberta hospital. Ruth Adria said that euthanasia is becoming more common and that she has other charges in progress. She says that “Institutions literally don’t want to spend the dollars on the care. Everyone knows it’s going on, but it has to be articulated: when people can no longer feed themselves, they are left to starve.”
2001 October 3: Herbert Lerner, 78, of Cote-St.Luc, Que, is sentenced to five years in prison for suffocating his 73-year-old wife Jenny with a plastic bag on June 12, 2000. Lerner plead guilty to manslaughter and claimed it was a mercy killing since his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Judge Pierre Laberge rejected the mercy killing defence noting that the woman was only at the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s. Laberge said there was no evidence that Jenny Lerner was suffering nor were there any requests for her husband’s aid in taking her life.
2001 November 29: The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition presents a petition signed by over 31,500 Canadians to Liberal MP Paul Steckle. The petition is to support the needs of people with disabilities and other vulnerable Canadians by rejecting the use of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy for Robert Latimer.
2001 December 14: The Canadian Civil Liberties Association presents a petition with more than 60,000 signatures to the office of federal Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay demanding clemency for Robert Latimer and an end to mandatory minimum prison sentences.
*This petition received broad coverage by the Canadian Press and the CBC and newspapers across the country. Meanwhile, the November 29 petition presented by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition against granting Robert Latimer clemency was ignored by the media.
2002 January 4: A BC couple are found dead along with their disabled son in an apparent murder-suicide. Maurice and Belva Baulne, who were in their 50’s, and their mentally disabled adult son, Reece, aged 34, were found in a motorhome parked outside their house with a hose hooked up from the vehicle’s exhaust which caused carbon monoxide poisoning. A note to family and friends explained their despair and concerns that their declining health would leave them unable to care for their son. The couple refused to place their son in a home.
2002 February 21: Quebec Superior Court Justice Fraser Martin rules that Rachel Capra Craig, 47, “is not criminally responsible for the death of her daughter by reason of mental disorder.” Craig admitted to killing her severely handicapped 14-year-old daughter with a poisonous drug cocktail.
2002 April 19: The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the case of Toronto homosexual/AIDS activist James Wakeford who was requesting legal assisted suicide. The case was dismissed without comment from the justices involved.
2002 May 16: The Supreme Court of Canada decides not to reopen the Robert Latimer case after considering the legitimacy of applying the prerogative of mercy to reduce his sentence.
2002 July 3: Evelyn Marie Martens, 71, of Langford, B.C., appears in provincial court, charged connection with two assisted suicides. On June 26, she helped Leyanne Burchell, 52, kill herself in Vancouver. She was also charged for counselling and helping Monique Charest of Duncan, a former nun originally from Quebec, to end her life on January 7.
2002 August 21: Alaskan William Stivers, 82, uses a suicide bag ordered from Canada in order to kill himself according to a report in the Anchorage Daily News. Stivers bought a small tank of inert, deadly gas and stored it in his basement. He sent away to an address in Canada for a modified plastic bag to trap the gas around his head. The Exit Bag, produced by the Right to Die Society of Canada is a suicide bag that is made of heavy-duty plastic that has been designed for optimum effectiveness in killing persons who wear the bag which is distributed with an instruction booklet entitled: The Art & Science of Suicide.
2002 September 16: The University of Toronto’s Joint Centre for Bioethics releases guidelines for physicians who treat terminally ill patients. The guidelines identify the intent of the physician administering narcotics and sedatives as the most crucial distinction between palliative care ” managing pain and suffering but not treating the underlying illness ” and assisted death (euthanasia/assisted suicide).
2003 January 28: The Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the Ontario Government’s Ministry of Culture, has provided the pro-euthanasia group ‘Dying with Dignity’ $177,800 over three years to create a pilot counselling program in Toronto. However, counselling to commit suicide is illegal in Canada.
2003 February 28: Doctors in Holland, where euthanasia is permitted, are illegally euthanizing patients since they feel the required reporting procedure is bothersome according to an investigative television program. The program noted that thousands of cases of life-shortening acts are not being reported to the regional committees which are to judge whether the euthanasia in the particular case is allowable under Dutch law.
Last updated: February 28, 2003