Bill 207 represents ‘grave threat’ to assisted dying access in Alberta, Dying With Dignity Canada says

Dying With Dignity Canada is vigorously condemning a provincial private member’s bill that threatens to impede assisted dying access in Alberta.

On Thursday, Dan Williams, MLA for Peace River, tabled the Conscience Rights (Health Care Providers) Protection Act. If passed by the legislature, Bill 207 would make it illegal for authorities in the province to discipline a clinician for refusing to respond to a request for medical assistance in dying (MAID). The proposed legislation would also forbid Alberta’s health care regulators from imposing rules that would require clinicians to “make statements to any person or body that would infringe the health care provider’s conscientious beliefs.” It raises the spectre that clinicians who oppose assisted dying could refuse to provide their patients with accurate information about MAID and how to access it.

“Bill 207 represents a grave threat to end-of-life rights in Alberta, and it must be stopped,” said Bradley Peter, a DWDC board member and co-chair of the charity’s Edmonton chapter. “People who request MAID are some of the most vulnerable, physically compromised patients in our public health care system. To deny them even the most basic information about MAID and a referral to a willing provider is akin to patient abandonment.”

Instead of adopting Bill 207, the Alberta legislature should follow the lead of provinces such as Nova Scotia and Ontario as it refines conscience protections for clinicians, Peter said. In Ontario, the province’s medical regulator requires doctors who object to MAID to refer patients who request it to a willing clinician or to a third-party agency that is able to handle the request. “Effective referral rules spare clinicians from having to provide MAID against their will, while ensuring fair access for suffering people.”

Peter also criticized the bill for proposing additional unwarranted protections for institutions that refuse to allow assisted dying on site. Currently, more than a dozen Alberta hospitals, including all Covenant Health sites, prohibit MAID on their premises. As a result, since 2016, more than 100 people in the province have had to transfer out of non-participating facilities in order to access their constitutionally protected right to MAID.

“Forced transfers for assisted dying expose Albertans to unnecessary pain, confusion, and dislocation at an intensely vulnerable moment in their lives,” said Peter. “We call on our MLAs to reject legislation that suggests it is okay to force suffering people to leave their hospital beds, their care teams, and sometimes even their communities to access their right to a peaceful death.”

The right to assisted dying is extremely popular in Alberta, he noted. A February 2019 poll commissioned by DWDC and conducted by Ipsos found that 86 per cent of Alberta residents support allowing a person to access MAID under the rules laid out in the federal law. The same poll found that 80 per cent of Alberta residents support requiring all publicly funded hospitals to allow MAID on site.

“Ensuring fair access to assisted dying is not only the right thing to do, it’s what Albertans expect their legislators to do,” Peter said. “We demand that our elected representatives consider the tragic consequences of putting the views of clinicians and institutions ahead of the rights of suffering Albertans.”