The Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons has released a draft document to act as a guide to doctors who will be involved in physician-assisted suicide when it becomes legal.

The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the the ban on doctor-assisted suicide last February and gave Ottawa a year to draft new legislation. The federal government says it will not meet that deadline, and the court is now considering whether to extend it.

"They were given a year, nothing was done in a year and the sun is setting quickly. If the one-year deadline stands, patients could request physician-assisted suicide by Feb. 7," Dr. Gus Grant, registrar and CEO of the college, said Friday.

"Neither Parliament nor the provinces, with the exception of Quebec, have dealt with the issue."

On Feb. 6, 2015, the Supreme of Court of Canada's decision in Carter v. Canada struck down the ban on doctor-assisted dying. The unanimous ruling gave eligible patients the right to receive physician help to die. 

assisted suicide

No doctors will be compelled to participate in physician-assisted deaths, but they must make an effective referral for any patient making that request, says the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia. (Chris Kreussling)

Grant said while many hope the one-year deadline will be extended so new legislation governing the practice can be introduced, that's not the view of everyone.

"There are suffering patients who have been waiting to exercise this right and who have, many have stood by for years waiting for this development to working this way through the legal system," he said.

The college's guidelines state that no doctor will be compelled to help a patient who chooses to end their life, but the physician must refer the patient to one who is willing to assist.

Not part of palliative care

At least two doctors must be involved when a patient requests help to die and the document outlines that palliative care options must first be outlined in full to the patient, Grant said.

"Physician-assisted death (is) not to be seen as part of palliative care," he said. "Make no mistake, it is a separate and distinct medical function from that of palliative care."

The college has released the document online to invite comments from doctors and the public.

"The present challenge is to provide guidance to physicians who wish to help appropriate patients," Grant said.

In the absence of any federal or provincial legislation, the college put together a working group to build the framework for physicians and patients to follow.

The working group included the province's Health and Wellness Department, Justice Department, Doctors Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Health Authority and Dalhousie University's Health Law Institute.