Nova Scotia

Physician-assisted death law needs to set out clear rules, CMA says

'There is a very small group of physicians, due to matters of conscience, who feel that a referral [is] equally amoral to them as providing the service,' says the president of the Canadian Medical Association.

'It's our hope there will be a national and coordinated approach.'

The Canadian Medical Association says a new law on doctor assisted death needs to protect patients and provide clear regulations for doctors. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Canadian Medical Association wants the new law on doctor-assisted death to protect patients' rights and set out clear rules for physicians. 

The association is set to release its recommendations on assisted dying today in Vancouver. It hopes the federal government will use its suggestions to help craft the new law. 

"Our desire [is] to make sure vulnerable patients are protected. [And] that no one would choose this option because they didn't have access to palliative care or pain management," Dr. Cindy Forbes, president of the CMA, told Halifax's Information Morning

Last February the Supreme Court overturned a ban on physician-assisted dying. It gave the federal government 12 months to develop a law to respond to the ruling. 

The Trudeau government asked for an extra four months to write the new legislation and the court granted that request.

Forbes said the new law must set out a roadmap for how doctors handle assisted dying. 

"We wanted to make sure that there was a process in place that was clear, that physicians would know what was expected of them, what their responsibilities were. That patients would know what to expect and that there would be oversight," she said. 

The CMA also wants the federal government to make sure that the law is consistent across Canada. 

"It's our hope there will be a national and coordinated approach," Forbes said. 

"That the federal government will take some legislative action at that level, to have the conversations with the provinces and territories about consistency and coordination. What we don't want to see is a patchwork of different laws and regulations across the country." 

Division amongst doctors

Not all doctors are on board with the idea of making doctor-assisted dying legal. 

"Physician-assisted dying is not something that physicians today would have prepared themselves for when they entered medical school, so there was a lot of concerns," said Forbes. 

Some doctors don't want to help people die and also don't want to refer patients to another doctor who will end their life. 

"There is a very small group of physicians, due to matters of conscience, who feel that a referral [is] equally amoral to them as providing the service. We recommend that they provide patients with the information and advice that they need to access the service." 

Forbes says it's the CMA's belief that there should be a balance between a physician's right to conscientiously object and a patient's right to assisted death. Exactly how that will work under the new legislation isn't clear.

The CMA is starting educational programs for doctors and Forbes says the association will be ready when the new law is rolled out. 

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