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CMA appears before assisted dying panel

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has appeared before the independent federal panel appointed to consider the federal government response to the Supreme Court ruling legalizing assisted dying.

The three-member External Panel on Options for a Legislative Response to Carter v. Canada was established in mid-July by the former Conservative government but suspended direct consultations shortly thereafter until completion of the federal election campaign.

“We feel it is important to present the perspective of the CMA developed following extensive consultations with CMA members, public and health and medical stakeholders in the period prior to and following the Supreme Court decision last February,” said CMA President Cindy Forbes who appeared before the panel.

“The clock is ticking and there is a degree of urgency to address the many issues that must be resolved before the Supreme Court ruling becomes effective in four months,” Forbes said.

“In this regard, the CMA is well positioned to show leadership and provide guidance on behalf of the medical profession in Canada.”

In its submission, the CMA stated that the association “strongly recommends the establishment of national and coordinated legislative and regulatory processes and systems in response to the Carter decision.”

“The CMA is deeply concerned that in the absence of federal action to support the establishment of national guidelines for assisted dying, a patchwork of differing and potentially conflicting approaches could emerge across jurisdictions.”

The CMA submission was based on a document titled Principles-based Recommendations for a Canadian Approach to Assisted Dying developed in consultation with national medical regulatory authorities and finalized following debate at the CMA’s annual General Council meeting in August.

The submission to the federal panel highlighted the section in the recommendations dealing with the important issue of conscientious objection by physicians who will choose not to provide assisted dying to their patients.

The CMA position on this issue states: “In order to reconcile physicians’ conscientious objection with a patient’s request for access to assisted dying, physicians are expected to provide the patient with complete information on all options available to them, including assisted dying, and advise the patient on how they can access any separate central information, counseling, and referral service.”

The CMA also highlighted the need for more education of physicians on the issue of assisted dying and stated that with the support of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, and the Canadian Medical Protective Association, it is taking the lead in developing education modules for physicians.

The submission concluded by noting that at GC in August delegates endorsed a resolution calling for “unconditional release” of the panel’s final report and it urged the panel members to support this move.

Under the leadership of the Ontario government, provincial and territorial governments (with the exception of Quebec and British Columbia) have also created a panel to provide feedback on the issues surrounding the Supreme Court of Canada decision.

Forward any comments about this article to: cmanews@cma.ca.