New Brunswick

College of Physicians releases assisted suicide guidelines

A doctor should not have to report a physician-assisted death to an independent body, according to new guidelines by New Brunswick's College of Physicians and Surgeons. The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year the ban on assisted suicide should be lifted.

13 guidelines are being sent to doctors across the province, says no need for oversight body

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick says a doctor can determine if the patient does not qualify for doctor assisted dying. (Reuters)

A doctor should not have to report a physician assisted death to an independent body, according to new guidelines by New Brunswick's College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The licensing and regulatory body is sending out its 13 guidelines to doctors across the province on Tuesday. The move comes after the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year the ban on assisted suicide should be lifted.

"In some jurisdictions there is an obligation to report any such deaths to an oversight committee or authority," the document states.

"Such should not apply in New Brunswick."

Ed Schollenberg, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, explains the size of New Brunswick would be an issue.

"We're not sure that's the best thing to do in a small province in terms of the privacy of the patients involved," Schollenberg said.

"There are already methods for reviewing death investigation, [such as] the coroner's office," 

The guidelines also say a physician "may decline to assist a patient in dying if, in the physicians's opinion, the patient does not meet the criteria."

Ken Pike, the social policy director with the New Brunswick Association of Community Living, believes the guidelines put too much authority in the hands of doctors and don't include enough safeguards for patients.

Pike says an independent oversight body is crucial before and after the procedure.

"We want to make sure that this new right isn't misused ... We also want to make sure that we have data on what are the situations where this is arising," Pike said.

'Without hope of a cure'

Other guidelines created by the college include:

  • A patient must be suffering from a "grievous illness without hope of a cure."
  • A physician can decline to assist a patient in dying if the physician has a moral objection, but the doctor is required to refer the patient to another doctor.
  • A physician must not abandon a patient who has requested assistance in dying.
  • The assisted suicide request must be document at least twice, two weeks apart, and again a third time.
  • A physician must get a second opinion from an attending physician on the case.

The Supreme Court has given Parliament until Feb. 6, 2016 to come up with legislation on the issue, although earlier this month the federal government asked the Supreme Court for a six-month extension.

The college's guidelines will come into effect once the Supreme Court's deadline expired. 

Until that point, medically assisted suicide remains illegal in New Brunswick and any doctor who practices the procedure could be prosecuted under the criminal code.

Last week, Quebec's assisted dying law, which allows terminally ill patients to choose to die, came into effect.

The New Brunswick government is looking into legislation options for the province.

"As each province requires its own legislation on physician-assisted dying, New Brunswick's Steering Committee continues its work to provide oversight and direction on this issue," said Bruce Macfarlane, communications director with the Department of Health.

About the Author

Julianne Hazlewood is a multimedia journalist who's worked at CBC newsrooms across the country as a host, video journalist, reporter and producer. Have a story idea? julianne.hazlewood@cbc.ca

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