Assisted dying law must protect patients and doctors

By MPP Toby Barrett

In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a Criminal Code ruling that a federal ban on assisted suicide is unconstitutional.

In the court’s view, assistance in dying should be granted to a competent adult person who clearly consents to the termination of their life, and has a grievous and irremediable medical condition, including an illness, disease or disability, that causes enduring suffering intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.

Assisted dying became legal in Canada last June.

The Supreme Court also stated that “it is for Parliament and the provincial Legislatures to respond, should they so choose, by enacting legislation consistent with the constitutional parameters set out”.

And last week Ontario introduced Bill 84, the Medical Assistance in Dying Statute Law Amendment Act.

However there are some health care professionals who object to providing medical assistance in dying. As Opposition we feel this is a right that needs to be protected, and through our Health Critic MPP Jeff Yurek we are looking at amending this legislation to protect those who object.

Since last fall I have had a number of meetings on this issue with Dr. Phillip Drijber – a local physician who has been providing  palliative care for over 20 years.

As Dr. Drijber and others explain, many physicians are not able to participate in euthanasia for reasons of conscience, ethics, religious convictions or the Hippocratic Oath. Many consider referral of any kind as a form of participation in euthanasia.

It should be pointed out the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Canadian citizens from being forced by the state to do things against their conscience or religious convictions.

Legislative processes should be put in place to allow doctors objecting to Bill 84 to continue to serve their patients and have their conscientious objections legally protected while, at the same time, providing a process for access to medical assistance in dying.

Dr. Drijber advocates health care providers must be protected from discrimination for their conscientious views; palliative care must be equal priority to assisted dying; and government must open access to assisted dying through self-referral, thus respecting the rights of both providers and consumers of health care services.

As we continue to debate this proposed legislation,   we have to ensure that we are protecting the public and that we’re protecting health care providers. We have an opportunity to protect the conscience rights of health care professionals with some amendments.

But we also must ensure there is sufficient hospice care available to people; to ensure that hospitals have the correct numbers of staff and funding to deal with palliative care; to ensure our community care and community support system provide adequate resource the health care professionals that are calling on a loved one’s home to take care of them in their end-of-life journey.

As I’ve indicated, the Official Opposition has plans to introduce amendments to the bill at the committee stage to accommodate doctors with different beliefs. However, this means supporting the bill at second reading so it can be referred to committee. How I will vote on third and final reading is still up in the air, dependent on what happens with the amendments. I welcome your advice at