Assisted suicide ban ends today but doctors and patients still in legal limbo

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould speaks about the government
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould speaks about the government's medically-assisted suicide bill in the Senate chamber in Ottawa, on June 1, 2016. (Photo:REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

The ban that was in place forbidding medically assisted dying expires today but there is one problem: the federal government hasn’t put a new law in place that regulates medically assisted suicide.

As a result, doctors and patients are in legal limbo because there is little guidance as to which medical cases allow assisted dying. Not surprisingly, there is an exception in cases the Supreme Court of Canada has stated where doctors should look out for death that is “reasonably foreseeable.”

Doctors are not seeing eye-to-eye on this issue. While Dr. Gus Grant from the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada doesn’t see a problem with the ban expiring without a new law, telling CBC News “It’s not a deadline. It's simply the day (the Supreme Court's Carter decision) becomes the law of the land,” others are saying this is a big problem.

The Canadian Medical Association’s vice-president Dr. Jeff Blackmer told CBC News doctors are “looking to the federal law for guidance on this."

Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Dr. Eric Hoskins, issued a statement today advising health care providers to “consult their regulatory colleges about any rules, guidelines or practices regarding medical assistance in dying.”

That’s fine and dandy but according to Blackmer that’s not much help because the colleges of physicians and surgeons can’t really protect doctors if they get it wrong.

Says Blackmer, "If you do something after June 6, and there's no federal law in place, (and) as a physician you get it wrong and you're taken to court and that court said 'we don't think you met these grievous and irremediable criteria,' well then, those regulations will be cold comfort to you in that situation of criminal sanctions".

The conclusion many doctors have reached is that they will not help people seeking medical assistance in dying with no federal law in place.

This is problematic as it looks like we are still weeks away from having a new law but those who are in dire pain and suffering do not have the time and are still waiting.

What is to happen to them in the meantime if doctors are hesitant in assisting people with “grievous and irremediable medical conditions” who wish to die?

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