Manitoba introduces doctor-assisted death policy

Those seeking a medically-assisted death in Manitoba will no longer need a court order after the province introduced its new policy this week.

Manitobans will no longer need a court order

Manitoba has introduced doctor-assisted death policy. (Getty Images/Blend Images)

Those seeking a medically-assisted death in Manitoba will no longer need a court order after the province introduced its new policy this week. 

Manitoba Justice will review medical assessments and supporting materials on a case-by-case basis. The materials will follow the College of Physician and Surgeons guidelines and must meet the criteria set out in the Supreme Court's original ruling. 

If Manitoba Justice finds that the patient meets the criteria, the health care professionals will be given permission to provide services to the patient without concern for prosecution, a government spokesperson said. 

"Manitoba has now taken a step that will provide clarity and reduce the uncertainties that existed over the last week," said John Myers, a Winnipeg lawyer who has represented all three Manitobans who have been granted the right to a medically assisted death.

The federal government had until June 6 to draft new assisted dying legislation, but Bill C-14 — the Liberals' proposed bill on assistance in dying — is still under Senate review. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court's original ruling became the law of land in the interim. That meant that doctors can't be prosecuted under the Criminal Code if they help a patient suffering from a "grievous and irremediable" illness die. 

Without federal legislation or a provincial policy, the College of Physicians and Surgeons said that patients would still need court approval since the Supreme Court ruling didn't protect the entire medical team. 

On Thursday, the province's new policy came into place removing the need to go to court. 

Myers said it's a welcome development, even if it's just an interim fix until the federal legislation goes through. 

"It's a much better alternative to a court proceeding," he said. 

Myers said with the policy there are multiple, rigorous, safeguards in place and the assessment process by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority will still take time, but it will save people and their families the turmoil of the court process.  

"The family can have some privacy, they don't have to go through the intrusive court application process and get what they need if in fact they qualify," he said. 

Myers said he remains optimistic that federal legislation will come over the next few months to help the narrow group of citizens across Canada.

"They now have a way that they can die with dignity with the assistance of their physician and I think that's a good development for Canadians who are suffering the way the three Mantiobans we came to know were suffering with their situation," he said. 

The first Manitoban granted a physician-assisted death was in March and a woman with ALS and a woman with multiple sclerosis were granted permission in May.