Court challenge against Ontario assisted dying policy goes to appeal

The top court in Ontario has agreed to hear an appeal into a legal challenge against a regulation that protects patient access to assisted dying in the province. 

In January, the Superior Court of Justice decided that the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s (CPSO) policy on effective referral for assisted dying is constitutional and protects patients who request medical assistance in dying from being abandoned by clinicians who oppose it. The policy requires Ontario doctors who oppose assisted dying to refer patients who request it to a non-opposing provider or agency in a timely manner.

Led by the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, a coalition of anti-choice clinicians launched the court challenge against the CPSO's effective referral rule, arguing that it infringes upon their Charter right to freedom of religion. Having lost at the divisional court level, they learned in May that their application to appeal has been granted. The decision could have major implications for access to assisted dying not just in Ontario, but across Canada.

Dying With Dignity Canada made arguments in support of the CPSO's policy at the divisional-court level and plans to apply to act as an official intervenor in the case when the challenge goes to appeal.

"We will redouble our efforts on the appeal to protect the right to choice of some of the most vulnerable, physically compromised people in Canada," said DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool. "We thank the CPSO for their vigorous defence of patients' right to access healthcare. If the effective referral policy is struck down, it would send a troubling message to doctors who oppose assisted dying: that it’s somehow okay to tell their patients that they are on their own to find answers to their questions about assisted dying."

No dates have been set for hearings in the case. DWDC will keep its supporters updated on new developments as they become available.

(Photo of Osgoode Hall, seat of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, in Toronto, by Peter C. Some rights reserved.)


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