Monday June 06, 2016

Doctors debate how to proceed as deadline passes for physician-assistance in dying legislation

The Supreme Court ruled in early 2015 that a ban on medically assisted dying was unconstitutional, and gave the government until June 6, 2016, to pass a new law. That deadline won't be met.

The Supreme Court ruled in early 2015 that a ban on medically assisted dying was unconstitutional, and gave the government until June 6, 2016, to pass a new law. That deadline won't be met. (Getty Images/Blend Images)

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Monday, June 6, 2016, marks the deadline imposed by the Canadian courts for a federal law on physician-assisted death to be enacted. That means as of Tuesday June 7, doctors can no longer be prosecuted under the Criminal Code if they help a patient suffering from a "grievous and irremediable" illness to die.

However, with the federal government's medical assistance in dying legislation still in the senate,  physician-assisted death remains undefined, stalled in what some are calling "legal limbo." 

The Current hosts a panel discussion on the ethical and legal dimensions of the delayed legislation, and its consequences for doctors and their patients. 

'There is definite uncertainty without legislation, so what's important is that the physician receive the appropriate advice, which for the most part we will probably place in the hands of a lawyer. [ . . . ] We are advising physicians that they should continue to engage with their patients on medical assistance in dying. What's important is to minimize the possibility that they themselves will run into medical legal difficulty.'

- Douglas Bell, associate executive director of Canadian Medical Protective Association 

  • Ellen Wiebe plans to start offering physician assisted death immediately.
  • Dr. Jeff Blackmer, vice president of Medical Professionalism for the Canadian Medical Association.
  • Dr. Stefanie Green, a physician hoping to add medical aid in dying to her practice. 
  • Dr. Susan MacDonald, an associate professor of Medicine and Family Medicine at Memorial University and past president of the Society of Palliative care physicians. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath and Sarah Grant.