The Canadian legislation to provide voluntary assisted dying should pass their House of Commons THIS WEEK.
It passed the second reading stage on 4 May by a massive vote of 235 to 75.
When passed, the Bill will go to the Senate for their vote. Negotiation between the houses may be necessary to get the Bill passed by the 6 June deadline set by the Supreme Court.
Last Thursday, 12 May, their Justice and Human Rights Committee recommended some amendments in an updated Bill which will be debated today (16 May) and tomorrow. The amendments are relatively minor, but make it more obvious that doctors and other health workers are free to make their choices to be involved. However, the Committee has not supported more extreme amendments to prohibit requirements for effective referrals of people requesting assisted dying when the doctors do not want to provide assisted dying.
This issue of ‘conscience rights’ of doctors was given an inordinate amount of time and attention by those opposed to assisted dying both in the debate on the main Bill and in a debate on a separate Private Member’s Bill. In all that time, those pushing for stronger rights for doctors did not make a single mention of the needs of patients with terrible suffering or show any respect for their rights or for a reasonable balance of patient and doctor views.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario requires ‘effective referral’ as part of their Professional Obligations and Human Rights policy. It describes it as: An ‘effective referral’ means a referral that is made in good faith with a view to supporting, not frustrating or impeding, access to care. Also: An effective referral must also be made in a timely manner to allow patients to access care. Patients must not be exposed to adverse clinical outcomes due to a delayed referral. This fair, compassionate professional policy is opposed by those opposed to voluntary assisted dying and some have taken legal action against the College to stop the policy.
The amendments also include in the Bill the commitments made by the Government to work with provinces and others “to facilitate access to palliative and end-of-life care, care and services for individuals living with Alzheimer’s and dementia, appropriate mental health supports and services and culturally and spiritually appropriate end-of-life care for Indigenous patients“. (Preamble of the Bill) Also written into the Bill is the Government’s commitment to take action on issues not covered in this Bill – “requests by mature minors for medical assistance in dying, to advance requests and to requests where mental illness is the sole underlying medical condition“. (Clause 9.1)
A Senate Committee is finalising its report today (16 May) so after that we will know what amendments it recommends.