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Release work of ‎federal assisted dying panel: CMA

With the imminent (next February) legalization of assisted dying remaining high profile for Canadians, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) wants findings from a federal panel investigating the issue to be made public once its work is complete.

A resolution passed at the CMA annual General Council (GC) meeting last week called for the “unconditional release” of the final report of the External Panel on Options for a Legislative Response to Carter v. Canada.

The panel was created in mid-July but has suspended direct consultations until completion of the federal election campaign. However, the panel continues to gather feedback online through a detailed survey — with a particular focus on protecting the rights of disadvantaged groups.

At the same time, under the leadership of the Ontario government, provincial and territorial governments (except Quebec and British Columbia which is an observer) have also created a panel to provide feedback on issues surrounding the Supreme Court of Canada decision. The Supreme Court had unanimously ruled earlier this year that Criminal Code provisions against assisted dying were unconstitutional. This panel is conducting another online survey of Canadian attitudes towards dealing with assisted dying and end-of-life care.

“The CMA is keen to work with both these panels to provide the physician perspective on these important issues and to ensure the rights of all Canadians are respected and protected,” said CMA President Cindy Forbes.

“As these panels are also dealing with other issues concerning end-of-life care, the CMA … wants to take the opportunity to reiterate its call for a national and comprehensive palliative care strategy and the need to focus on the availability of palliative care services for all Canadians.”

Forbes said input provided during the discussion at GC will allow the CMA to work with regulators, governments and others to find a solution that does not force physicians to participate in assisted dying against their moral or religious beliefs, while ensuring that access is available for patients who qualify. The chairs and/or staff of both panels attended GC and heard the debates on assisted dying.

The polls being conducted by both panels touch on conscientious objection and referral, which dominated the GC debate, but don’t probe the issue in any depth.

As discussed at GC, the CMA is working on development of a two-day, in-person, certified education module that would help physicians prepare for when the law changes on Feb. 6, 2016.

The training module would encompass palliative care, pain and symptom control, communication, legal/ethical/religious issues and technical aspects.

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