In June the Canadian Medical Association released its preliminary findings on the issue of physician assisted dying.1 The report calls for “creation of a national palliative-care strategy to ensure people across the country have access to a high-quality, dignified end-of-life experience.”2 Recently the Province of Québec passed Bill 52 that affords Québec citizens the right to “die with dignity”. The bill passed in the Québec assembly in June by a vote of 94 to 22.3
As such, the national debate is heating up, and a case, Carter v. Canada, will soon be heard in front of the Supreme Court and will likely be seminal in the development of national law and policy.
In June 2012, “The BC Supreme Court released its judgment in the case. The BC Supreme Court ruled that the Criminal Code of Canada provisions against assisted dying violate the rights of the gravely ill and gave Parliament one year to rewrite the laws”. 4
The case was appealed in the BC court and the original ruling was overturned. An appeal was the made to the Supreme Court of Canada and the case will hear arguments starting in October of this year.
It is of note that the CMA has applied for intervener status in the Carter case and Dr. Chris Simpson from Queen’s, as incoming CMA president, will be the appellant. He will likely be making an appearance at the Supreme Court this Fall (as a “friend of the court”) to share the CMA’s national town hall experience on this issue.
As one can imagine, the country is polarized on this issue. Even physicians are divided on this issue. “A recent poll Canadian doctors conducted earlier this year (2013) found that 38 per cent think euthanasia should be illegal, 34 per cent think it should be legal, and 28 per cent were unsure or would not say.5 Regardless of one’s opinion, it is also clear that in Canada, we still lack global access to excellent palliative care for the terminally ill. What is more, we have a very narrow construct of “terminally ill” and are only recently starting to embrace that terminally ill means more than dying of cancer, and must acknowledge that many other patients are in need of help with suffering, from illnesses such as neurodegenerative disorders, chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease and others.
This is an important topic for Canadians and indeed, an issue in which health care providers should take a lead in helping shape national policies. It is my personal hope that we are quickly arriving at a national consensus on this issue.
If you have any thoughts on the matter of physician assisted dying, please comment on the blog, or better yet…please drop by the Macklem House, my door is always open.