An Ontario judge’s ruling on the interpretation of Canada’s assisted dying law is encouraging, and it may clear up some of the confusion surrounding who is legally eligible for access, Dying With Dignity Canada says.
The decision came in response to an application made by a 77-year-old Ontario woman who is suffering from chronic osteoarthritis and has made a formal request for medical assistance in dying (MAID). Two independent doctors had assessed her as eligible under Bill C-14, Canada’s assisted dying law. However, the physician who was supposed to provide her with life-ending treatment was not comfortable moving forward because of the disagreement surrounding Bill C-14’s most controversial eligibility requirement: that one’s “natural death must be reasonably foreseeable.”
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On Monday, Justice Paul Perell ruled that A.B., whose real name is protected under a publication ban, does indeed fulfill that particular rule in Bill C-14. In doing so, he provided much-needed clarification on how physicians and nurse practitioners should go about interpreting the federal law. “The legislation makes it clear that in formulating an opinion, the physician need not opine about the specific length of time that the person requesting [MAID] has remaining in his or her lifetime,” Perell wrote.
In addition, he stated that the language in the law “reveals that the natural death need not be connected to a particular terminal disease or condition and is rather connected to all of a particular person’s medical circumstances.”
The leading organization helping Canadians to avoid unwanted, unnecessary suffering at end of life, Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) is applauding the decision. “Most of all, we’re relieved for A.B., a courageous, compassionate woman who has fought hard to exercise her right to medical assistance in dying,” said DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool. “In doing so, she has helped other Canadians whose right to choice is at stake simply because their healthcare practitioners aren’t confident in their understanding of this law.”
Bill C-14’s “reasonably foreseeable” requirement is among the most contentious aspects of the law, which was passed in Parliament one year ago. Disagreement in the medical community over the meaning of this term has led to inconsistencies in how Bill C-14 is being applied.
“In communities across the country, Canadians who qualify under Bill C-14 are being told they aren’t eligible because they aren’t expected to die within six months or a year,” Gokool said. “It is unfair and unacceptable to force these individuals to continue living in a state of intolerable suffering when the current law provides them a path to final relief.”
Despite Justice Perell’s decision, major concerns remain about the constitutionality of some of the restrictions laid out in Bill C-14, Gokool noted. The law still discriminates against desperately ill Canadians whose natural deaths are not reasonably foreseeable, those whose underlying medical condition is a mental illness, and individuals with capacity-eroding conditions like dementia who cannot access MAID because Bill C-14 prohibits advance requests for assisted dying.
“As a country, we continue to learn more about the flaws and injustices embedded in Bill C-14,” Gokool said. “We thank A.B. for helping to advance our understanding of the law and its impacts on people, and we wish her nothing but peace and comfort for the next stage of her journey.”