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Federal Consultation on Physician-Assisted Dying Announced

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Health Law Bulletin

On Friday July 16, 2015, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Peter MacKay and Minister of Health Rona Ambrose announced a formal consultation process on physician-assisted dying. A three-person panel has been appointed to consult with a broad range of stakeholders. The panel will deliver a report to the Ministers in the fall of 2015 on the results of the consultations and on legislative options in response to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Carter v. Canada.

Background to the Carter Decision

In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the existing federal laws that ban physician-assisted dying in its decision in Carter. The Court found the laws were unconstitutional to the extent they prohibit physician-assisted dying for competent adults who consent to the termination of their life because of a "grievous and irremediable" medical condition that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual.

The Court delayed the effective date of its decision for 12 months to give federal and provincial legislators time to craft a legislative response within the constitutional parameters of the decision.

Read our previous bulletin for an in-depth analysis of the Carter decision.

The Panel

The External Panel on Options for a Legislative Response to Carter v. Canada will be chaired by Harvey Max Chochinov who is a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba, Director of the Manitoba Palliative Care Research Unit, CancerCare Manitoba and holder of the Canadian Research Chair in Palliative Care. His co-panelists will be: Catherine Frazee, Professor Emerita at Ryerson University and former co-director of the RBC Ryerson Institute for Disability Studies Research & Education and Benoît Pelletier, a former Cabinet Minister in Quebec and constitutional law expert. Mr. Chochinov and Ms. Frazee were both witnesses for the Crown in Carter.

The mandate of the panel is to:

  1. engage key stakeholders and the public in consultation regarding the various key issues that will inform a federal legislative response to Carter
  2. provide a final report to the Ministers of Justice and Health outlining key findings and options for a legislative response

The consultation will focus on the following key issues:

  • forms of physician-assisted dying (i.e., assisted suicide, where a doctor prescribes a lethal dose of medication that the patient takes himself/herself; and, voluntary euthanasia, where a doctor injects a lethal dose of medication into a patient to terminate their life on their consent)
  • eligibility criteria and definition of key terms
  • safeguards to address risks and procedures for assessing requests for assistance in dying and the protection of physicians' freedom of conscience

The consultations will include a variety of key stakeholders, including: interveners in the Carter case, healthcare professional organizations and associations, legal bodies, associations representing vulnerable populations, faith-based organizations, and other groups in the medical community as well as other interested parties. The consultations will take place by way of in-person meetings with certain stakeholders as well as a more general online consultation process.

The report of the panel will be delivered to the Ministers of Justice and Health in the fall of 2015. At the discretion of the Ministers, the report may be made public. All consultation activities must—if they are still ongoing—cease during the election period.

The panel's website will include consultation materials, including information about physician-assisted dying and a consultation questionnaire. Interested parties can sign up for email notifications on the consultation website.


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