Nova Scotia

Doctor-assisted death discussed at Nova Scotia panel

The College of Physicians & Surgeons N.S. held a four-person panel about how doctor-assisted death would work in Nova Scotia. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in February the practice is OK for specific cases, but the ban on doctor-assisted death will remain until February 2016.

The federal and provincial government have not come up with laws or guidelines for doctors yet.

(From left) Dr. Nuala Kenny, Dr. Jeff Kirby, Dr. Rocco Gerace and Jocelyn Downie discuss doctor-assisted death at Dalhousie University Friday night. (Anjuli Patil/CBC News)

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia held a four-person panel Friday night to discuss how doctor-assisted death would work in the province and what guidelines should be in place if the doctor objects.

This comes three months after Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a law that makes it illegal for anyone to help people end their own lives should be changed to allow doctors to help in specific situations.

Jocelyn Downie is a lawyer and a professor in the Faculties of Law and Medicine at Dalhousie University. 

"I believe that physicians should not be compelled to provide physician-assisted death but that there should be a duty to provide an effective referral," said Downie.

"So if you are not prepared to do it, you must refer someone to someone else who is able and willing to provide the assisted death."

Dr. Jeff Kirby is a healthcare ethicist with a background in medicine and philosophy. He agrees that doctors should not be forced to provide assisted death.

Religious objections

"That being said, I think there's an obligation by the Nova Scotia Healthy Authority and the Department of Health to ensure that there is at least one committed, philosophically committed, trained 'physician-assister' in each of the four management zones of Nova Scotia," said Kirby.

Dr. Nuala Kenny, founding Chair of the Department of Bioethics at Dalhousie University's Faculty of Medicine, said doctors in general should not be responsible to provide assisted-death.

She said she is Roman Catholic and has religious objections, but said she also has objections as a physician and medical educator.

"How is killing an act of medicine? [Medicine] is about healing and restoration. So I'm concerned about the consequences to the physician-patient relationship," said Kenny.

The practice is still banned in Canada until early February 2016. This is to give the federal and provincial government time to draft laws, but three of the four panelists expressed doubt any legislation would be ready by that time.

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