New Brunswick

Physician-assisted dying guidelines trouble Moncton doctor

A New Brunswick doctor says there’s much work to be done before creating an assisted death protocol in the province.

Dr. Pamela Mansfield says she fears patients may pick assisted death if quality palliative care is unavailable

New Brunswick's College of Physicians and Surgeons released the criteria earlier this week that it feels should be used for a doctor-assisted death. (Chris Kreussling)

A New Brunswick palliative care specialist says there are many questions left to be answered before creating an assisted death protocol in the province.

New Brunswick's College of Physicians and Surgeons released a list of 13 guidelines concerning assisted dying to doctors across the province on Tuesday.

The release of the guidelines follows a Supreme Court of Canada ruling on Feb. 6, which allows the procedure under certain criteria.

Dr. Pamela Mansfield, a Moncton-based palliative care specialist, said she feels that the guidelines are based on those in other jurisdictions and don't paint the full picture.

"Those guidelines are comprehensive, but there's still a lot of questions about which medications, will there be an oversight body that looks at patients who do go through with physician-assisted dying? Those are still questions that are out there," Mansfield said.

Regulations questions

Dr. Pamela Mansfield, a palliative care specialist, said she worries patients will choose doctor-assisted suicide because quality palliative care isn't available. (CBC)
The policy states that a doctor should not have to report a physician-assisted death to an independent body.

Mansfield said she feels this is a very different type of medical procedure and a federal regulation would be best.

"I think it would be better to have that Canadian voice as opposed to a provincial voice and giving guidelines about, 'Does there need to be a regulatory body?' The people who are investigating it seem to think that there should be a regulatory body so I think that's up to the experts to decide," she said.

For Mansfield, the bigger issue is lack of quality palliative care in the province.

She's frustrated by the lack of movement on a palliative care strategy, but said the recent focus on assisted dying might improve that.

She adds the lack of palliative care might have a direct impact on terminally-ill patients.

"Without that, there will be a lot of people seeking physician-assisted dying because they don't have access to palliative care," says Mansfield.

Challenges ahead

Groups across Canada lobbied for physician-assisted death to be legalized, which the Supreme Court ruled in favour of in February 2015. (Mike Symington/CBC)
New Brunswick's large rural population also poses some challenges in creating a doctor assisted dying strategy, according to Dr. Mansfield.

"[In] what places [would] the patient be able to have this done? Would it be in a nursing home? Would it be in the hospital? I think those are certainly some challenges that we are going to face in the coming months," she said.

The federal government has asked for a six-month extension beyond the Feb. 6 deadline imposed by the Supreme Court regarding assisted death legislation. There has been no ruling on that as of yet.

The New Brunswick government, meanwhile, is continuing to examine the issue.

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