Panel studying doctor-assisted dying gets new mandate, extended timeline

A group of experts consulting with Canadians on doctor-assisted suicide has a new mandate and more time to complete a report to the federal government.

Panel appointed to consult with Canadians, medical authorities, experts and organizations

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in February that people with grievous and irremediable medical conditions should have the right to ask a doctor to help them die. (Canadian Press)

A group of experts consulting with Canadians on doctor-assisted suicide has a new mandate and more time to complete a report to the federal government.

Rather than providing options on developing legislation, the panel, led by University of Manitoba psychiatry Prof. Harvey Max Chochinov, is now asked to simply focus on the results of the consultations. It has until Dec. 15 to complete its report.

"Physician-assisted dying is a deeply personal and complex matter and [the panel members] have conducted their work with utmost professionalism. Recognizing that this is of interest to all Canadians, we are committed to ensuring a thoughtful, well-informed legislative response," stated a letter released by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Minister of Health Jane Philpott.

"The panel has heard from an impressive number of Canadians and experts. We look forward to receiving their final report and will use it as we continue to develop the government's response to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Carter vs. Canada."

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in February that people with grievous and irremediable medical conditions should have the right to ask a doctor to help them die.

The case was initiated by Kay Carter, 89, who suffered from a degenerative disease and ultimately went to Switzerland to end her life.

The court ruling in February said Canada's law that makes it illegal for anyone to help people end their own lives should be amended to allow doctors to help in specific situations. The court gave Parliament a year to craft a set of laws to govern assisted suicide.

The government then appointed the panel to consult with Canadians, medical authorities, experts and organizations, and formulate legislation options by Nov. 15.

In addition to Chochinov, who is the Canada research chair in palliative care at the U of M, the panel consists of University of Ottawa law professor Benoit Pelletier, a former Quebec cabinet minister and a constitutional expert, and Catherine Frazee, former co-director of Ryerson University's institute for disability research and education.

"Our government is profoundly grateful for the hard work and personal commitment of all three panel members," stated the letter from Wilson-Raybould and Philpott.

"Thousands of individuals, experts and organizations, both within Canada and abroad, have provided their views on this complex and sensitive issue since the panel was established in July. The government recognizes the challenges of this tight timeline and is extending the panel's mandate by one month."

The panel has held 51 meetings in five countries and consulted with 66 experts and 95 representatives from 48 Canadian organizations, government officials said. It has also received more than 300 document submissions from stakeholders and more than 11,000 responses to its online consultation.


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