Sudbury doctors review legislation around medically assisted death

Medical professionals in Sudbury are taking the time to study draft legislation around doctor assisted death.

Healthcare professionals want clearer guidelines from government on the issue

The staff at Health Sciences North in Sudbury is waiting to see more specifics of the proposed assisted dying law. (Getty Images/Blend Images)
Doctors across the country are reviewing the government's draft legislation on medically assisted death. Dr. Sanjiv Mathur is the president of the Sudbury and District Medical Health Society. He shared his thoughts on the legislation. 7:44

Medical professionals in Sudbury are taking the time to study draft legislation around doctor assisted death. 

Last week, the federal government tabled legislation that said the service would be restricted to mentally competent adults who have a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability. The bill also did not include contentious issues such as whether medically assisted death would be available to minors or the mentally ill. 

Physicians like Dr. Sanjiv Mathur of the Sudbury and District Medical Health Society said he is optimistic after seeing the draft legislation. However, the the anesthesiologist added that clarification is needed from the government to ensure both patients and doctors are protected. 

"[Medical aid in dying] is a courageous and compassionate decision," he said. "As long as we make sure that we protect the patients first, the caregivers and we clarify the legalities, then I think it's a very good way to proceed."

Dr. Sanjiv Mathur is with the Sudbury and District Medical Health Society. (Provided by Sanjiv Mathur)

Other concerns Mathur outlined included how doctors decide which patients would be eligible to get medical aid in dying. He also had questions about how medical students and physicians would get trained on providing the service. 

"All medical students and people who are already practicing really haven't had good training on this," he said. "We need to get people trained [and] make sure they understand this legislation in detail." 

Another aspect of end-of-life-care

Medical schools are also taking time to study the matter. 

Dr. Catherine Cervin, the associate dean of the Northern School of Medicine, said the institution is awaiting the final form of the legislation before the school updates its curriculum. However, she added that medically assisted death will be an extension of what students are already learning when it comes to end-of-life care. 

"Currently in our undergrad curriculum, we have objectives such as explaining the legislation in Canada regarding a patient's right to refuse or to stop medical treatment," she said. 

"This will be another aspect of end-of-life care. We already teach our students in residence about challenging conversations with patients about discussing goals of care." 

Dr. Catherine Cervin, associate dean of the Northern School of Medicine, says the institution is awaiting the final draft of the government's legislation before updating the school curriculum to include medical aid in dying. (Samantha Lui/CBC)

Meanwhile, palliative care physicians at Sudbury's Health Sciences North said they won't be providing medical assistance to help patients die.

In a memo sent to medical staff at the hospital, the lead of the unit says physician assisted death goes against the approach of the palliative care unit, which is to improve quality of life.

As for the rest of HSN, spokesperson Dan Lessard told CBC News the hospital is still deciding on the issue as more guidelines from the provincial and federal government are needed on how to proceed.

"There's conscientious objection for individual physicians who decide that that's not a service they want to provide. But, what is the requirement for institutions to provide this service? Especially when they may be the only hospital in an area," he said. 

Input wanted from palliative care workers

The federal government has until June 6 to come up with a law to recognize the right to die for eligible patients.

However, Mathur said that date still might be too early as several healthcare professionals still have concerns. 

"Most of us would feel more comfortable if the Palliative Care Association was more involved in this procedure and this process," he said. "Most of us want to see their concerns addressed because really, they are the ones who would be working mostly with these patients." 

However, Mathur said he supports a patient's decision in choosing physician assisted death. 

"I'm confident and hopeful that the government can work with the Palliative Care Association and other groups to make sure that everyone is comfortable so that we can provide this to patients to allow them to have a death with dignity and unneeded suffering." 


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