The Current

Physician-assisted death report offers roadmap for application of law

Last February, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Canadians with severe medical conditions have a right to ask a doctor to help them die. The court gave the federal government a year to come up with a way to comply. Now an Advisory Group has advice to turn that right into a reality.
How might Canada incorporate physician-assisted death into the health care system? (Dignity in Dying/Flickr cc)
"I just feel strongly in my heart, and in my guts, that this is my destiny ... This is part of my journey. I'm fighting for the right to die with dignity, so that I could die, with the assistance of a physician, if my life becomes so unbearable, with so much pain, that I can't go on any more.- Gloria Taylor suffered from ALS and spoke to The Current in 2011

Gloria Taylor went to the Supreme Court of Canada to win the legal right to die with the help of a doctor.  She became the first Canadian granted that right by the Court, but she died before following through on that plan.

Gloria Taylor was the first Canadian ever to win the legal right to ask a doctor for help in dying, when and how and where she wished. The fifth estate documents Taylor's struggle with mortality as she faces a disease with no cure and fights publicly to change the law over the course of what would be the last year of her life. 45:14

Donald Low worried about his end of life too. He was a well-known microbiologist who advocated for physician-assisted death before he died of cancer in 2013.

Last February Gloria Taylor and Donald Low's dying wishes came true when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that people with "grievous and irremediable medical conditions" have the right to ask a doctor to help them die.

The court gave the federal government one year to develop new laws and guidelines. The Liberal government has since asked for a six month extension. It's not clear whether the court will grant that request.

This week, a panel appointed by most of Canada's provinces and territories released a report with recommendations on how to implement physician-assisted death in Canada.

  • Maureen Taylor is a physician assistant at Toronto East General Hospital and a former CBC medical journalist. She is also a co-chair of the Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying. 
  • Jennifer Gibson is the Director of the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics. She is also a co-chair of the Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying. 
  • Dr. Will Johnston is a family doctor and the chair of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of British Columbia.
     

We also requested  an interview with the Federal Health Minister. She was unavailable. 

A separate federally appointed panel on physician-assisted death was submitted to the government yesterday. It has not yet been released to the public.


How would you like to see Canada move forward with physician assisted death? Is what you're hearing about the recommendations comforting to you, or worrisome?

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This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins and Sujata Berry.