A British Columbia judge ruled Friday that Canadian laws banning doctor-assisted suicide are unconstitutional because they discriminate against severely ill patients.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith declared the laws invalid, but also suspended her ruling for one year to give Canada's federal Parliament time to draft legislation with her ruling in mind.
Canada's federal government is expected to appeal the decision. The case will likely go to the Canadian Supreme Court.
Smith also allowed the ailing Gloria Taylor, 64, to seek a physician-assisted suicide during the one-year period if she wants. Taylor was diagnosed in 2009 with Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, which progresses rapidly and is always fatal.
Smith said the provisions in Canada's constitution infringe on Taylor's rights to life, liberty and security of persons, and discriminate against grievously ill or physically disabled patients who want to have some control over their circumstances at the end of their lives.
Countries are increasingly wrestling with the issue of assisted suicide as their populations age.
It has been illegal in Canada to counsel, aid or abet a suicide, an offence carrying a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
Grace Pastine of the British Civil Liberties Association called it a major victory for individual rights at the end of life.
"The court has recognized that Canadians who are seriously and incurably ill have the right to request a physician to assist them in a dignified and human manner," she said.
Pastine said Taylor released a statement in which she said she was deeply grateful knowing that she'll have a choice at the end of her life and that it allows her to approach her death with dignity.
Dr. Will Johnson, Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, called it a "radical" decision but noted Parliament will have a say.
"We're disappointed but not surprised at the radical nature of this decision today which essentially legalizes assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada," Johnson said.
"We think this judgment decided to minimize and to disregard a lot of the evidence of harm in other jurisdictions where assisted suicide and euthanizes has been practiced."
It has been nearly 20 years since the tale of another patient suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, Sue Rodriguez, gripped Canadians as she fought in court for the right to assisted suicide. She lost her appeal but took her own life with the help of an anonymous doctor in 1994, at the age of 44. Continued...