North Bay doctor an advocate for medical assistance in dying

Dr. Paul Preston says changes need to be made to laws that govern medical assistance in dying.

Most common problem is people afraid to lose competency before they can have medically assisted death

The federal Department of Justice's online questionnaire on medical assistance in dying closes January 27. (BlurryMe/Shutterstock)

The federal government has been asking Canadians what they think about some of the rules around medically assisted dying. 

This spring those rules have to change. That's because of a court order that says the current laws around medically assisted death are too restrictive. 

So far, over 225,000 people have responded to the federal government's online survey. That's the largest number of responses the Department of Justice has seen for any public consultation.

The survey closes today, January 27, at 11:59 p.m. (PST).

Dr. Paul Preston is the primary care lead on medically assisted dying in northeastern Ontario for the provincial government.

He has helped two dozen patients in the North Bay area end their lives.

Preston says the most common problem is people being afraid to lose competency before they can have a medically assisted death.

"So they have to choose a time earlier than they would want to and that's been high profile in different cases across the country," said Preston.

"People complain a lot that they can't have advanced directives with Alzheimer's but they never get into that process because they're not allowed to even start," he added.

Preston explained that the 10-day period of reflection can be changed already if there's an imminent loss of capacity or death is imminent.

"It's shortened about 25 per cent of the time in Ontario and it probably should be looked at for these cases where people don't have a terminal disease such as the case that drove the judge's decision in Québec where these people were severely disabled," he added. 

As for the issue of mandatory mental health assessments, Preston says "if the sole underlying cause is a mental health disorder, then they should have an expert opinion, but for most people it would be insulting to claim that they must have a psychiatric assessment."

He added that "these people already recognize that their meaningful life is over and they don't define their life by the presence of metabolisms."

Preston believes that the vast majority of Canadians are caring, kind people who support medically assisted dying.

"I think once we get our ducks in order it'll just become a new normal," said Preston.

Medical assistance in dying became legal in Canada in June 2016. 


With files from Markus Schwabe


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