Canadian Health Minister Jane Philpott speaks at a healthcare conference. (Photo by Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
It's now legal for doctors and other healthcare providers in Canada to help patients die.The federal government missed its June 6 deadline to implement its assisted death legislation, Bill C-14, so provinces across Canada are taking things into their own hands when it comes to regulating how and when people can end their own lives.Canada joins other jurisdictions such as The Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland, all of which have their own rules around doctor-assisted suicide.
Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins announced Monday that drugs used to assist deaths will be available free of charge in the province, and that a referral service connecting patients with doctors willing to provide the service is being created. Over the last few months, numerous people in Ontario and across the country have been granted permission by provincial courts to die ahead of the federal government's new law.A spokesperson for the minister told VICE News that the referral service will be a phone line patients can call if their current doctor is unwilling to help them die. The names of willing doctors will not be made public because of "security concerns in putting a list like that out."British Columbia's health minister also released a statement on Monday saying that the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC has amended certain regulations under the provincial Health Professions Act. The health minister also urged each health authority to appoint a special coordinator for medical assistance in dying.Quebec was the first province in Canada to implement its own euthanasia law last December. The first case involved a patient who died after an injection was administered by a doctor.
In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously struck down the country's ban on doctor-assisted suicide, and gave the federal government 12 months to come up with a replacement law. The new Liberal government was granted a four month extension to implement Bill C-14, but it missed that deadline and it could be weeks before the Senate approves it.
In the meantime, the Supreme Court's ruling will be law. According to its decision, a Canadian can qualify for an assisted death of they are a consenting and "competent adult older than 19 years of age who suffers from a "grievous and irremediable medical condition."Doctors will be allowed, but not compelled, to administer end-of-life medication to those who qualify.Unable to secure passage of the Liberal's assisted dying legislation, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott lashed out, criticizing the new provincial guidelines as inconsistent and insufficient for protecting doctors and patients."Effective tomorrow you may be asked to do something that you've never been asked to do before, to help people end their lives," Philpott, a former family physician, warned an audience at a national health conference on Monday in Ottawa."We will have a patchwork approach to protection of the vulnerable, as safeguards vary across the country," she said. "While I have faith in Canada's healthcare providers to carry out these responsibility responsibly and ethically, I believe that regulatory guidance alone is insufficient given the nature of what you will be asked to do."
While right-to-die advocates have praised the decriminalization of assisted suicide in Canada, they have also slammed the Liberal government's legislation for not going far enough, and have called for them to scrap the whole thing. It has been criticized for limited access to assisted death to those with terminal illnesses who face an "imminent" death."Bill C-14 … threatens to rob tens of thousands of desperately ill Canadians of their rightful choice to assistance in dying," Dying With Dignity Canada's CEO Shanaaz Gokool said in a statement released Monday."By limiting eligibility for assisted dying to individuals at end of life, Bill C-14 will deny Canadians who are suffering from intolerably severe chronic illnesses such as ALS and Multiple Sclerosis."Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne