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Feds name assisted dying panel

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is keen to work with the newly appointed federal government panel appointed to hold consultations and respond to the Supreme Court of Canada decision striking down the Criminal Code provisions against assisted dying.

The three-member external panel was named by Minister of Justice and Attorney General Peter MacKay and Minister of Health Rona Ambrose last week “to assist the federal government in formulating a legislative response to the Supreme Court decision.”

On Feb. 6, the Supreme Court’s ruled in the Carter case that the Criminal Code sections making it illegal to assist in or cause the death of another person were unconstitutional, but suspended implementing the decision for 12 months.

“The CMA looks forward to contributing to the report of the panel, including providing a briefing on its most recent consultation and the Principles-based Approach to Assisted Dying in Canada which addresses most of the key issues identified by the Panel,” said CMA President Chris Simpson in a statement released after the government announcement.

“This is a timely announcement given that the CMA is just completing a consultation process with members on a potential legislative framework for assisted dying and will be discussing these findings at its annual general council meeting next month in Halifax,” Simpson added.

The panel will be chaired by Dr. Harvey Chochinov, Canada Research Chair in Palliative Care at the University of Manitoba and also includes lawyers Catherine Frazee, former co-director of the Ryerson-RBC Institute for Disability Studies Research and Education and Benoît Pelletier, a constitutional expert and professor of law, University of Ottawa.

“Despite their well-established views on these issues, the CMA is confident that the panel, chaired by Dr. Chochinov, will undertake a balanced and comprehensive consultation that will build on the efforts already undertaken by the CMA,” said Simpson in the CMA statement.

Others took a more critical stance on the appointments, noting both Chochinov and Frazee have voiced views in opposition to assisted dying and provided submissions in opposition to assisted dying during the Supreme Court hearings on the Carter case.

Critics have also pointed out that the timing of the appointment means the panel will not be reporting until following the federal election currently scheduled for October. It has also been pointed out that the timing of the panel report leaves the door open for the government to request an extension on the Supreme Court suspension of the decision should the Conservatives win the election.

The panel will meet with stakeholders and also conduct a public online consultation with Canadians and provide a final report by the fall that outlines findings and provides options for consideration by the federal government.

The government has said the panel deliberations “will be one source” the government will draw on for its response to the Supreme Court ruling.

The mandate of the panel involves evaluating some aspects of assisted dying already outlined by the Supreme Court decision such as the different forms of physician-assisted dying and eligibility criteria as well as areas already well-articulated in the CMA’s own consultation process such as the definition of key terms and safeguards to address risks and procedures for assessing requests for assisted dying as well as protection of physicians’ freedom of conscience.

“We certainly hope the panel will take advantage of the extensive consultations the CMA has conducted over the past two years through town hall meetings across Canada with the public and members as well as online consultations with members on these issues,” said Simpson.

“Given the importance of this issue to Canadian society and Canada’s doctors who are anxious for clarity about how assisted dying will be implemented, we urge the panel to be expeditious in its work,” Simpson said.

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