When Dying With Dignity Canada issued an open letter criticizing the Ontario Superior Court of Justice’s draconian interim guidelines for assisted dying, we expected jurists and commentators across the country to take notice.
We did not, however, expect a prompt personal letter from the court itself. But alas, that’s what we got.
- Open letter: Provincial superior courts must consider compassion during extension period
- Related: Ontario court's interim rules for assisted death are a lawyer's picnic
In a message dated February 10, 2016, Robyn J. Levine, the Superior Court’s executive legal officer, acknowledged that the court had received the open letter and said that Superior Court Chief Justice Heather Forster Smith had reviewed it herself.
The interim guidelines were issued in late January, after the Supreme Court said it would delay by four months the implementation of its decision in Carter v. Canada, which strikes down the Criminal Code ban on physician assisted dying. The ruling will ultimately come into effect on June 6. However, the Supreme Court said patients who cannot wait until then can apply to the superior court in their respective provinces to access assisted dying earlier.
DWDC objects to the interim guidelines because they impose steep barrier to access for desperately ill patients looking to exercise their right to die in peace and dignity. Among the document’s most egregious points is the requirement that the attending physician must sign an affidavit confirming that the patient “is or will be physically incapable of ending his or her life without a physician-assisted death.” It also recommends mandatory psychiatric assessments, while DWDC argues that psychiatric assessments should be ordered only when a patient’s competency is in question.
However, Levine said the guidelines are merely “evidentiary suggestions” (emphasis hers); individual Superior Court judges may decide whether or not to use these criteria, or others not outlined in the document, when determining a patient’s eligibility.
Levine said the Superior Court is not prepared to revise the guidelines at this juncture and added they “will hopefully provide greater clarity on the evidentiary requirements in a physician assisted death application” until new legislation is put in place.
“Under different circumstances, broader consultations would likely have occurred before a practice advisory of this nature would have issued,” Levine stated. “Unfortunately, time did not permit broad consultation to occur.”