Draft rules for assisted dying released by Alberta

Associate health minister Brandy Payne said the information was released at the request of MLAs who wanted it for a debate on assisted dying on Tuesday afternoon.

MLAs receive rules only moments before debate, leaving some to think it's a last minute effort

The Alberta government unveiled its draft framework on assisted dying Tuesday. (CBC News)

The Alberta government has unveiled its draft framework and regulations that will guide patients, doctors and the government once physician-assisted dying becomes legal June 6.

Associate health minister Brandy Payne said the information was released at the request of MLAs who wanted it for a debate on assisted dying Tuesday afternoon.

"Alberta needs to be prepared. And we are prepared," Payne told journalists during a telephone conference call.

"Alberta is the only province outside Quebec where all legislators will have opportunity to provide feedback on this deeply personal and difficult issue."

However, MLAs received the information only moments before the debate, leading some to believe that everything was being pulled together at the last minute.

"With fewer than 72 hours left in the spring session as scheduled, the NDP has tabled crucial documents directly related to the life and death of Albertans and dedicated a mere six hours to the most important decision of any person's life," said PC MLA Dave Rodney. 

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said she, too, was frustrated over timing of the debate.

"Part of my frustration is caused by some of what's happened through the federal government in terms of delays, and they themselves are debating their legislation this afternoon, but certainly their Senate process hasn't unfolded yet," she said.

"It certainly was my plan A  that we take the time following Carter, which was decided under the previous government."

Rules follow Supreme Court decision 

Proposed text amending standards of practice for physicians and surgeons follows the wording of the Supreme Court ruling that legalizes physician-assisted dying.

The Carter decision allows people with "grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable" and "cannot be relieved under conditions that the patient considers acceptable."

This goes further than the federal bill which limits assisted dying to those with a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability who are "suffering intolerably" and whose death is "reasonably foreseeable."

Bill C-14 was passed by the House of Commons Tuesday. However it is expected to face amendments in the Senate which will send the bill back to the Commons.

Once the bill is passed, it will be the law of the land and will supercede how Alberta defines eligibility for assisted dying.

Under the Alberta regulations, the decision to opt for assisted death is between the patient and doctor. Another physician will need to provide a second written opinion on the patient's eligibility.

Any doctor who refuses to help a patient die due to religious beliefs or conscience must refer them to the new coordination service without delay.

The medical assistance in dying care coordination service will be set up through Alberta Health Services.  

It will coordinate and provide assisted death services to patients, provide information to health care workers, and supply grief services to families. The service will also keep a list of drugs doctors can prescribe to allow a compassionate death.

A review committee made up of the chief medical examiner and the registrars of colleges governing physicians, nurses and pharmacists will provide advice and recommendations on how the framework is working.

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