New CMA recommendations don't do enough to protect patients' rights

The Canadian Medical Association’s updated recommendations on physician assisted dying do not go far enough to protect patients’ right to a peaceful death, Dying With Dignity Canada says.

On Thursday, the CMA released its latest round of policy suggestions on physician assisted dying. In the document, the association calls for a “national and coordinated” framework for assisted dying and lays out the organization’s policy wishes.

The leading organization helping Canadians to avoid unwanted and unnecessary suffering at end of life, Dying With Dignity Canada says some of the CMA’s recommendations, if enshrined into law, risk condemning the country’s most desperately ill patients to a horrible death. In particular, the CMA has backtracked on its earlier recommendation that doctors who oppose assisted death could be required to refer patients who request it to a third-party referral body.

“Horrifically ill Canadians, especially those in the last throes of terminal illness, must not be forced to strike out on their own to find a doctor who is willing to alleviate their suffering,” said DWDC CEO Wanda Morris. “Making patients fend for themselves is not a policy we can support.”

Morris called on the CMA’s leadership to listen to its membership, which, at the organization’s annual general meeting in August, voted 79 per cent against a policy of “self-referral.” She noted the updated recommendations also contradict numerous existing provincial laws and regulations on conscientious objection, including assisted dying laws recently enacted in Quebec.

“Most Canadian doctors agree that it’s unacceptable to abandon patients at their time of greatest need,” said Morris. “It’s time for the CMA to adopt the same approach.”

The CMA’s updated recommendations on physician assisted dying come less than a week after the Supreme Court agreed to delay the implementation of its ruling in Carter v. Canada by a period of four months. When it comes into effect on June 6, the decision will strike down the country’s Criminal Code ban on assisted dying, but it does not require doctors to participate in assisted death.

Morris called on federal and provincial lawmakers to keep the interests of patients at top of mind when creating new rules for physician assisted dying.

“Physicians have rights and they must be respected,” Morris said. “But ultimately, the rights and needs of patients have to come first.”

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