Prosecutorial Discretion in Assisted Dying in Canada: A Proposal for Charging Guidelines

Jocelyn Downie, Dalhousie University - Schulich School of Law
Ben White


An Expert Panel of the Royal Society of Canada and a Select Committee of the Québec National Assembly both recently recommended the issuance of permissive guidelines for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion on voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide and “medical aid in dying” respectively. It seems timely, therefore, to propose a set of offence-specific guidelines for how prosecutorial discretion should be exercised in cases of voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canadian provinces and territories. We take as our starting point the only existing guidelines of this sort currently in force in the world (i.e. the British Columbia Guidelines, and the England and Wales Guidelines). In light of certain concerns we have with these guidelines, we outline an approach to constructing guidelines for Canadian jurisdictions that begins with identifying three guiding principles we argue are appropriate for this purpose (respect for autonomy, the need for high-quality prosecutorial decision making, and the importance of public confidence in that decision making), and ends with a concrete and detailed set of proposed guidelines. The paper is consistent with, but also extends, the work of the Royal Society Canada Expert Panel on End of Life Decision Making.