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A province-by-province look at assisted death guidelines

Medical regulators in all provinces have strict guidelines for assisted death


 
The Supreme Court of Canada building is pictured, in Ottawa, on October 15, 2014. The Trudeau government appears to be in no hurry to grapple with the explosive issue of doctor-assisted dying, even as it prepares to urge the Supreme Court next week to give it more time to craft a new law on the matter. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

(Sean Kilpatrick, CP)

OTTAWA — The Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons in every province and one of three territories have issued guidelines that doctors must follow in providing medical assistance in dying (MAID).

With the exception of Quebec, they all rely heavily on the eligibility criteria set out by the Supreme Court last year in a landmark ruling which concluded that MAID should be available to clearly consenting adults with “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions who are enduring suffering that they find intolerable. Some offer interpretations or definitions of the terms used by the court.

Beyond that, the guidelines spell out varying conditions in which MAID can be provided in each province:

Alberta:

— Two doctors must independently agree the patient meets all criteria set out by the Supreme Court.

— Patient must be “competent throughout the process.” No advance requests.

— The college notes that legal precedent recognizes mature minors as adults in their ability to consent but recommends “a careful and conservative approach” to mature minors.

— Doctors may refuse to provide MAID but have “an obligation” to provide patients with timely referrals to doctors who will perform the service.

— Requests must be in writing, signed by the patient and two witnesses, at least one of whom can not be related to the patient, entitled to any portion of the patient’s estate or involved in treatment of the patient.

— Where capacity is unclear or where a person is suffering from depression or other mental illness, a psychiatric or psychological consult is required.

— A period of reflection of 14 days from initial request to final consent is recommended.

British Columbia:

— Two independent physicians must agree a patient meets the criteria set out by the Supreme Court.

— The patient must be eligible for publicly funded health care, able to give free and informed consent throughout the process.

— No advance requests.

— The patient must consistently express a desire for MAID over a “reasonable period of time” _ 15 days in most cases but dependent on each patient’s condition and circumstances.

— Formal written request required, signed by the patient and one witness who is not related, entitled to a portion of the patient’s estate, or involved in treatment.

— Physicians may refuse to provide MAID but they must provide “an effective transfer of care.”

Manitoba:

— At least two physicians must independently agree the patient meets the Supreme Court’s criteria. Adult is defined as 18 years of age.

— Independent psychiatric assessment required where a patient does not have a terminal illness (prognosis of less than six months) or is not suffering from a “catastrophic and irreversible physical injury” or intractable physical pain or an advanced state of irreversible, significantly impaired function or imminent decline to that state. The assessment must rule out a treatable psychiatric disorder that is impairing patient’s ability to tolerate suffering or assess treatment options.

— Each doctor must meet at least once with the patient to ensure that the patient is competent, fully informed and that the decision to terminate life “a clear and settled” choice, without undue coercion or influence.

— No advance requests.

— A waiting period of at least seven days, except for those whose death is imminent.

— Written consent, signed by the patient.

— Physicians may refuse to provide MAID or to refer a patient to another doctor but must provide “timely access to a resource” that will provide the necessary information.

New Brunswick:

— Patient must meet criteria set out by the Supreme Court, which is further defined as suffering from a grievous illness for which there is no cure and which will eventually cause death.

— The college notes that MAID could theoretically be available to any patient who can legally consent. In N.B., the age of legal consent is 16.

— Patients with progressive illnesses who are also suffering from “intractable depression” are not automatically ineligible but doctors should proceed with “extraordinary caution” in such cases.

— Physicians may refuse to provide MAID or to make a direct referral but must provide patients with information on accessing MAID.

— Doctor must be satisfied that patient’s wish is “persistent, consistent and unshakable,” documenting patient’s request for MAID at least twice, two weeks apart, and again just before administering MAID.

— No advance requests.

— Administering physician should obtain additional medical opinions as deemed appropriate to confirm prognosis, alternative options, and patient’s capacity to make a free, fully informed choice.

Newfoundland and Labrador:

— Two doctors must agree a patient meets the criteria set out by the Supreme Court. Adult is defined as at least 19 years of age.

— No advance requests.

— Written request required, signed by patient and one independent witness.

— Physicians may refuse to provide MAID but should provide “timely access” to another doctor or information resource that is available and accessible to the patient.

Nova Scotia:

— Two doctors must agree a patient meets criteria set out by the Supreme Court. Adult is defined as at least 19 years of age.

— No advance requests.

— Physicians may refuse to provide MAID for reasons of conscience but college recommends they provide “an effective referral” to another doctor.

Ontario:

— Two doctors must agree the patient meets criteria set out by the Supreme Court. College recommends that only patients in Canada, covered by publicly funded health care, be eligible. It notes that the court did not define the term “adult.”

— No advance requests.

— Physicians may refuse to provide MAID but must make an “effective referral” of the patient to an available, accessible physician or agency that will.

— An unspecified waiting period is required, length depending on the patient’s condition.

— A formal written request is required, signed by the patient, the attending physician and an independent witness.

Prince Edward Island:

— Two doctors must agree the patient meets the criteria set out by the Supreme Court. Must have a current provincial health care card and the capacity to freely and repeatedly consent throughout the process, up to the time of dying. Adult is defined as at least 18 years of age.

— Request must be in writing, witnessed by two independent persons with no connection to the patient.

— Doctor must ensure patient has repeatedly expressed a desire for MAID “over a reasonable period of time,” which may vary depending on patient’s condition.

— No advance requests.

— Physicians may refuse to provide MAID but must provide, or arrange to be provided, the patient’s chart to other physicians.

Quebec:

Quebec is the only province that has enacted a law governing MAID. The law, drafted before the Supreme Court ruling, requires that:

— A patient must be covered by provincial health care, be of “full age” and capable of giving consent, be at the end of life, suffering from a serious and incurable illness, in an advanced state of irreversible decline and experiencing constant and unbearable physical or psychological suffering which can’t be relieved in a manner acceptable to the patient.

— Two doctors must agree patient meets the criteria for MAID.

— Request must be made in writing.

— No advance requests.

— Physicians may refuse to provide MAID but must immediately notify authorities who will take steps to find another doctor.

Saskatchewan:

— Two doctors must agree the patient meets the criteria set out by the Supreme Court. Adult is defined as at least 18 years of age.

— Patient must repeatedly give free, informed consent throughout the process, up to the time of dying.

— No advance requests.

— Attending doctor must ensure the patient has consistently expressed a desire for MAID “over a reasonable period of time,” the length of which is dependent on the patient’s condition.

— Physicians may refuse to provide MAID but must arrange “timely access” to another doctor or resource.

— Patient must fill out a prescribed form confirming informed consent to receive MAID.

Yukon:

— Two doctors must agree the patient meets criteria set out by the Supreme Court. The Yukon Medical Council notes that it is uncertain if MAID could be legally available to minors.

— Patient must maintain decision-making capacity throughout the process, up to time of dying.

— No advance requests.

— Written request for MAID required, signed by patient and two witnesses, one of whom is not related, entitled to any benefit from the patient’s estate or involved in the provision of treatment.

— If a physician believes the patient suffers from psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression that could impair capacity to make an informed choice, the patient must be referred for assessment.

— A waiting period of 14 days is recommended.

—  Physicians may refuse to provide MAID but must arrange “timely access” to another doctor or resource.

 


 

A province-by-province look at assisted death guidelines

  1. Except in Quebec, all of these rules and regulations have been created by the established groups of doctors, which means that they can easily be changed if and when problems arise. This is not a difficult situation either for doctors or patients. Common sense can apply to all end-of-life medical decisions. Later the other provinces might create detailed laws like Quebec’s. And all can learn from what happens in Quebec. Here are some recommendations for other provinces to consider in creating their own right-to-die rules and regulations: http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/SG-CAN.html.

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