Ontario leads a provincial charge

Unwilling to wait longer for leadership from Ottawa, the provinces are working together on a harmonized approach to physician assisted dying.


In April, the Conservative government announced it would legislate but took no concrete steps to do so. In July, they named a three-member panel, which includes two panelists who testified against the right to physician assisted dying, to consult with Canadians. The federal election call just two weeks later put elements of the consultation on hold. 

In light of these events, we questioned whether Ottawa was willing to accept the Supreme Court’s decision or whether they were seeking to undermine it. 

Fortunately, the feds are not the only game in town. On Aug. 14, the Government of Ontario announced a multi-provincial expert panel to assist all provinces and territories in framing legislation, to avoid a patchwork approach to physician assisted dying. 

This is great news. We’ve met with provincial representatives in Ontario (and elsewhere) and found them keenly aware of the scope of the Supreme Court’s decision and strongly committed to implementing it.

At Dying With Dignity Canada, we have long believed that physician assisted dying is a health matter — not a criminal one. Furthermore, some of the most critical implementation issues to be resolved are questions of access. These are within provincial jurisdiction. 

In choosing Maureen Taylor, Don Low’s widow, as the panel’s co-chair, the provinces have given a strong voice to those most impacted by assisted dying: patients and their loved ones. But this is by no means a solely pro-assisted dying group. It also includes vocal opponents of assisted dying, so all Canadians, whatever their views, have a voice. 

The CMA’s great leap forward

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and DWD Canada have been at loggerheads for most of our history.

This is changing. Whether through the bridge-building of our Physicians Advisory Council, outreach from our staff, or simply as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, our relationship with the CMA has improved dramatically. Our two organizations now both want an assisted dying regime that meets the needs of patients and their physicians while protecting the vulnerable from coercion.

Of course, our positions differ slightly. Not surprisingly, the CMA tends to emphasize the concerns of physicians while we focus on the needs of patients. The CMA is also silent on areas that are outside their scope but within ours, such as the need to ensure patients can access assisted deaths without obstruction by institutions or pharmacists. But far more unites us than divides us.

This is a testament to the CMA’s leadership, both professional and volunteer, and the physicians across the country who have worked so diligently to create alliances and bring change.

While everything could change at the CMA’s annual meeting in August, I’m optimistic that they will stay the course.

—Wanda Morris, CEO
Dying With Dignity Canada

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