Manitoba College of Physicians and Surgeons seeks input on doctor-assisted suicide

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba's working group on doctor-assisted suicide is in the process of drafting a statement and is asking for your input.

Doctors 'can't stand in way of patient' on physician-assisted suicide, says college

Dr. Anna Ziomek, the registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, says the working group will have to balance the rights of the patient with the rights of the physician.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba is asking for your input as it drafts a statement on doctor-assisted suicide. It has posted an invitation on its website. 

Registrar Dr. Anna Ziomek says a working group was set up in the spring. It has 12 members including doctors, members of the public, a student, administrators, a palliative care physician and a representative of Dying with Dignity, an advocacy organization lobbying to give Canadians end-of-life choices.

"We have both polar ends and the middle in this working group," said Ziomek.

Ziomek won't disclose any of the names of those on the committee to protect their identity.

As of Feb. 6, 2016, it will be legal in Canada for a physician to assist a competent adult in taking his or her own life under strict conditions. The Manitoba college is trying to determine what role, if any, a doctor will play, or if he or she refuses to participate, what at a minimum should be expected of them. 

"Should they be required to refer a patient to someone else or provide information as to where they can find a doctor who will comply?" said Ziomek.

CBC has interviewed four doctors who refuse to participate. Two have also said they won't refer patients to other doctors out of conscientious objection. 

Ziomek said letters referring to conscientious objection have been coming in to the college from a number of doctors. It is also getting input from patients and the general public. 

"We acknowledge that some things are very difficult for physicians; impossible because of their moral, ethical or religious beliefs. At the same time we have to consider the Supreme Court's decision that says a patient has a right to have access to assisted suicide."

What the working group needs to do is balance the rights of the physicians who feel they can't participate with the rights of the patient, if the patient meet the requirements of the Supreme Court decision, adds Ziomek.

It will be up to the working group to come up with a draft statement by Oct. 15 based on the input. 

Doctors 'can't stand in way of a patient' 

Ziomek said the group has to clarify several issues related to physician-assisted suicide. 

"If a physician says they can't participate, what are the options for the patient to access the information? How should this occur? Is it to happen in a home setting or should this only be in a hospital setting? These are the things the working group is reviewing," she said.

Ziomek couldn't say what if any disciplinary action physicians who refuse to participate would face. 

"I have no response to that right now," she said. " We are looking for more feedback."

She doesn't think though that the new law would result in a conscientious objector leaving the medical profession over the issue.

"I hope not. I understand where these doctors are coming from. But they can't stand in the way of a patient at least being given access to information. And I think that is the key. The patient is asking about something. If you can't deliver that message yourself, you need to give the patient a place where they can go and get information that is useful to them."

Ziomek said once the draft statement is posted next week, there will be another 30-day consultation process with an online survey. A more detailed and revised statement will go before the college's council in early December. It's expected to be approved for the Feb. 6 deadline, when physician assisted suicide becomes legal.


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