Canada's Supreme Court has struck down a ban against doctor-assisted suicide, while suggesting that it should be available only for competent adults suffering from an incurable disease.

Its decision on Friday, however, was suspended for one year to allow lawmakers an opportunity to enact new rules surrounding the divisive issue.

A legal challenge to the existing law was brought by the families of two women in westernmost British Columbia province who have since died, and was supported by civil liberties groups.

One of the women, Gloria Taylor, died of an infection after suffering from a neurodegenerative disease.

The other, Kay Carter, traveled to Switzerland, where she was allowed to commit doctor-assisted suicide, saying before she died that she was terrified at age 89 of "dying inch by inch".

The court's decision reverses a 1993 ruling in the case of Sue Rodriguez, a pioneer in the fight for the right to die in Canada.

The court at the time expressed concern over protecting vulnerable persons, but in its new ruling pointed to changed social values.

Source: Agencies