Margaret Somerville

Margaret Somerville

March 9, 2015

OTTAWA – Prominent ethicist Margaret Somerville has called for the federal government to launch a royal commission on "physician-assisted death" and to invoke the notwithstanding clause.

Liberals, meanwhile, have called for the establishment of a parliamentary committee to investigate ways to revise Canada's suicide laws now that the Supreme Court has struck down laws preventing voluntary euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.

In a Feb. 19 letter to Justice Minister Peter MacKay, Somerville, the founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and the Law, wrote of the "gravity" Canada faces as a result of the Feb. 6 Supreme Court decision.

"This decision does not represent an evolution in the foundational values that bind us together as a society, but a revolution, a radical departure from upholding the value of respect for life," she said.

Somerville said the court decision "constitutes radical change, not only for individual Canadians, but also to the institutions of both law and medicine, because the law is changed to allow killing and physicians are authorized to carry it out."

Somerville called for a royal commission to "fully enquire into the issue of legalization of 'physician-assisted' death and the use of the charter's notwithstanding clause to suspend the Supreme Court's decision for five years in order to give the commission time to report.


Consistent with the Hippocratic Oath, "euthanasia has never been characterized as medical treatment," she said. Legalizing assisted suicide represents not just a "small incremental change" but a "seismic shift."

Somerville also argued the court was wrong in finding that the harms and risks of legalizing euthanasia are not serious or could be avoided.

"This is a serious error, which is central to both the trial and Supreme Court of Canada decisions.

"All such factors need investigations by a royal commission and sober second though, especially on the part of parliamentarians," she said.