Praise for federal committee report on physician assisted dying

In their report to Parliament, MPs and Senators on the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying have presented a set of bold recommendations to allow suffering Canadians to choose a medically-assisted death.

The report is already receiving praise from organizations in support of choice in dying, including the BC Humanist Association and Dying With Dignity Canada.

Among its recommendations, the committee said:

  • Physician-assisted death should be available to those with non-terminal illnesses and psychiatric conditions.
  • There should be a two-phased legislation. First, to make physician-assisted death immediately available for eligible individuals over 18. Second, within 3 years, to pass a provision to make assisted death available to mature minors.
  • Patients should be able to make an advance request following a diagnosis likely to cause suffering and loss of competence.
  • Medical professionals with "conscientious objections" to physician-assisted dying would be required to provide an effective referral.

These recommendations largely follow the BC Humanist Association's submission. In fact, the committee cited and endorsed one of the BCHA's most important recommendations. Namely that:

That the Government of Canada work with the provinces and territories to ensure that all publicly funded health care institutions provide medical assistance in dying.

Last week, the BCHA reported that over $1 billion of taxpayer money goes to religious healthcare institutions in the province. CBC has obtained a leaked memo from the largest of those institutions, Providence Healthcare, stating that physician-assisted dying is "not permitted in Catholic health care institutions such as Providence."

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:

We're heartened that the committee has listened to the secular and compassionate majority and have chosen to put patients' rights first. We urge Parliament to adopt these recommendations and give Canadians who are suffering the choice they have been pleading for.

Frankly, it's outrageous that in 2016 the Catholic hierarchy is still attempting to dictate what healthcare is available to the people of BC - and that they might get away with it. Nearly all Canadians, and the overwhelming majority of Catholic-Canadians, support choice in dying. It's time for our governments to stop privileging religion in our healthcare system. We shouldn't be expected to pay for hospitals that want to spit in the face of the Supreme Court of Canada and patients' rights.

Bushfield told The Canadian Press:

There are religious viewpoints that oppose blood transfusions. Yet I can't imagine we would be OK as a society funding a hospital that refused to provide blood transfusions and having it be the main hospital in downtown Vancouver.

Shanaaz Gokool, CEO, Dying With Dignity Canada:

We thank the MPs and senators on this committee for their swift but thoughtful work on this extremely important issue. Their recommendations embrace the spirit of the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Carter v. Canada and should serve as the basis for new legislation on assisted dying.

Patients deserve real choice. Without the option to consent in advance to assisted dying, Canadians with dementia who want to die in peace with the help of a physician face a dire choice: access assisted dying prematurely, while they are still competent; or risk losing competence before their wishes can be carried out, only to be condemned to the exact fate they sought to avoid.

Unless taxpayer-funded healthcare facilities are required to allow aid in dying on-site, then terminally ill patients in many regions of the country will effectively be denied their right to die with the help of a doctor.

Make no mistake: these recommendations are an excellent start, but we aren’t there yet.

Grace Pastine, Litigation Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association:

The report is strong endorsement of the principle that assisted dying should be one of many available compassionate end-of-life health care options for critically-ill patients. It’s clear that the MPs and Senators on this committee grappled with these questions thoughtfully and seriously. We agree with the committee’s co-chair that the fundamental principle is that we trust medical professionals with our lives, and that we should trust them to assist Canadians with dying.

Groups opposed to assisted dying lobbied for restrictive laws that would create impossible barriers for critically ill Canadians. Thankfully, the committee flatly rejected these proposals. The report opposes measures that would exclude suffering Canadians from accessing a peaceful death, such as limiting assistance to patients with a terminal illness. It also rejects requiring judicial authorization or prior review panels to determine patient eligibility.

We are very pleased that the committee recommended that advance consent be respected. A competent person should be able to make an informed decision now so that they will not be trapped in suffering later, when they are no longer competent or able to communicate.

We are concerned that the requirements for a second doctor, and for two witnesses, will be onerous for patients, particularly those in rural and northern communities, and could pose an unnecessary barrier to care.

Read more:

Read the committee's press release and the report: Medical assistance in dying: A patient-centred approach

Statement by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and Minister of Health on tabling of Special Joint Committee's report on physician-assisted dying

Dying With Dignity Canada cheers Joint Committee's recommendations on assisted dying - Dying With Dignity Canada

Rights watchdog that won assisted-dying case reacts to Joint Committee recommendations that implement Carter decision - BC Civil Liberties Association

Let Canadians plan ahead for doctor-assisted death, report advises - CBC

Doctor-assisted death 'not permitted' at Vancouver's Providence Health Care centres: memoCBC

Catholic health provider cautious about assisted dying ahead of new lawVictoria Times Columnist

Catholic hospitals wrestle with assisted death - The Vancouver Sun

Bruyère won't offer physician-assisted death: memoCBC

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