February 8, 2016

Physician-assisted death legislation could include competent children under 18, a legal expert told a parliamentary committee.

University of Ottawa professor Bernard Pelletier said Jan. 26 that Parliament could broaden the criteria beyond the Supreme Court's Carter decision which permits physician-assisted death for competent adults.

The federal external panel's legal expert told the parliamentary committee on physician-assisted dying Jan. 26 that restricting access to competent adults would be vulnerable to a legal challenge.

Pelletier's advice disagreed with that given the previous day by constitutional lawyer Peter Hogg, who had argued on behalf of the federal government before the Supreme Court in the Carter case.

Hogg said the legislation should stay close to the justices' criteria and not, for example, restrict it to terminally ill patients or expand it to include minors.

Pelletier said the Carter decision was based on the charter's provision on life, security and liberty of the person, but future litigation could argue on the charter's equality provision to include competent children under 18.

Also appearing Jan. 26 were the co-chairs of the Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying.

That group recommended children as young as 12 should qualify for physician-assisted death.

One of the co-chairs, Jennifer Gibson, said competent adolescents are already allowed to make end-of-life decisions in some parts of Canada.