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Canadian High Court Voids Ban on Doctor-Assisted Suicide

Lee Carter, whose mother had challenged Canada's assisted-suicide ban and traveled to Switzerland to end her life in 2010, embraces her husband, Hollis Johnson, while speaking to journalists at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Feb. 6, 2015.

The Supreme Court of Canada on Friday unanimously struck down a ban on doctor-assisted suicide for patients who are mentally competent to decide to end their lives.

The court overturned its own 1993 ruling against the practice. It said its earlier decision was too broad because it applied to all patients, not just those "vulnerable persons" the law was meant to protect.

The court said Friday that the ban left the sick with only two options — self-inflicted suicide by "violent or dangerous means" or suffering until death comes. The justices said both choices are cruel.

But they put enforcement of their ruling on hold for a year to give the Canadian Parliament time to write new laws on suicide.

Two women who are now dead had challenged the ban before the court. One was suffering from the crippling illness called Lou Gehrig's disease. The other was an 89-year-old woman who said she did not want to slowly die "piece by piece." She went to Switzerland, where doctor-assisted suicide has been legal for decades.

Grace Pastine, an official with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association in western Canada, hailed the court's ruling. She said the decision meant "Canadians who are suffering unbearably at the end of life will have a choice now — the choice to seek the assistance of a physician if their suffering becomes unbearable."

But a representative of Canada's Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, Taylor Hyatt, disagreed with the court, saying "if a person has disabilities, there's an assumption that your life is unbearable and there's nothing good in it."

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