Email Your Ontario MPP: Make Bill 84 put patients first
Ontarians who support fair access to assisted dying: we need your help.
The Ontario government has tabled new legislation to clarify how medical assistance in dying (MAID) is regulated in the province. Elements of Bill 84 appear well-intentioned and designed to protect patients and healthcare practitioners alike, while other provisions are problematic.
But it’s a yet-to-be tabled change to the bill that poses the greatest threat to choice in Ontario. Opposition health critic Jeff Yurek is planning an amendment that would undermine a current rule requiring physicians who conscientiously object to assisted dying to refer patients who request it to another agency or provider. Approved last year by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) — the body that regulates the practice of medicine by doctors in the province — the policy of effective referral strikes an appropriate balance between a physician’s right to conscientious refusal and a patient’s right to compassionate care.
Even with this policy in place, dying Ontarians are still reporting that their doctors are refusing to discuss, let alone provide a referral for, MAID. Some are being told to find a doctor on their own. This is akin to patient abandonment, and it imposes a heavy burden on vulnerable Ontarians in their greatest time of need. And if Yurek’s amendment makes it into the final bill, it will communicate to objecting clinicians that it’s acceptable to ignore the rights and wishes of desperately ill Ontarians who want to end their lives in peace with a doctor’s help.
This amendment is especially concerning because a coalition of anti-choice groups claim to have sent more than 6,000 email, letters and phone messages regarding the referral issue to provincial politicians. We must not let this small, but loud, group drown out the voices of the millions of Ontarians who believe in fair choice at end of life.
In addition, some proposals already in the bill are extremely worrying. Here are other policies that could impose harmful barriers to access upon residents of Ontario:
- The government is proposing to shield public healthcare institutions from having to produce records about their policies on assisted dying. While it’s essential to protect the privacy of patients and their clinicians, healthcare facilities have no right to be able to hide their policies from the public. This baffling proposal threatens to impose a cloud of uncertainty at a time when Ontarians are looking for clarity on where assisted dying is available in their communities.
- The bill would require all assisted deaths to be reported to the coroner. This requirement has been in place in Ontario since the passage of federal assisted dying legislation in June, but the new Ontario bill would solidify it in provincial law. Why is this troubling? The provincial coroner is called to investigate deaths that are sudden or suspicious. Assisted deaths are neither — Canadians can only ever access assisted dying after painstaking consideration and after satisfying numerous legislative and regulatory safeguards. Involving the coroner stigmatizes their choice and could create a chill for healthcare providers who want to include assisted dying as part of their practice. It also creates an air of uncertainty for people and their families at an already sensitive time, not knowing if the call to the coroner will trigger an investigation. Ultimately, we believe the Ontario government must work with its federal and provincial-territorial partners to develop mechanisms that would take MAID reporting out of the coroner’s office.
- Under Bill 84, assisted deaths will still be reported as “suicides.” Reporting assisted deaths as suicides is misleading and would vastly distort the province’s vital statistics data. In other provinces, when an assisted death is recorded, the patient’s underlying medical condition is listed as the official cause of death, while medical assistance in dying is listed as the manner of death. This approach produces more accurate data, making it easier for researchers to make informed policy recommendations in the future.
Despite its flaws, Bill 84 proposes other changes that would actually create clarity for Ontario residents, including patients and healthcare providers. Here are the positive aspects of the legislation:
- Healthcare practitioners who are involved in the lawful provision of assisted dying will be protected from lawsuits. Physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers who obey the federal assisted dying laws are protected from criminal prosecution. Bill 84 would take these protections: healthcare practitioners couldn’t be successfully sued for providing assisted dying in a lawful manner.
- Bill 84 would make it illegal to use assisted dying as a justification for refusing to pay benefits on a legitimate insurance claim. In general, the insurance industry is respecting benefits claims in cases where the policyholder died with medical assistance. Bill 84 proposes formalizing this practice in provincial law.
What you can do
Tell your representative at Queen’s Park to speak out against assisted dying rules that impede rightful access to assisted dying for residents of Ontario. Use our latest Ontario Email-a-Rep tool to send your MPP a powerful message in favour of a “patients first” approach that defends Ontarians’ rights, promotes transparency and discourages clinicians from abandoning vulnerable Ontarians in their time of need.
(And if you want to go above and beyond, use DWDC's new Bill 84 Letter-Writing Toolkit to find out how you can make a powerful official submission to the multi-party committee of MPPs that is studying the legislation.)
Here's how it works:
- Enter your address so the tool knows which MPP to email.
- Then, enter your name and email address. (Phone number is optional.)
- You can use the default text, or you can customize it to make your message even more powerful.
- When you're done that, click "Send my email." Your message will be delivered electronically to your local MPP as well as to Premier Kathleen Wynne, Health Minister Eric Hoskins and the group of MPPs that will be studying the bill at committee.
Once you've finished, send the link to your friends and family, and post it to social media. Thank you for your time!
- "Proposed Ontario rules would limit transparency around assisted dying" — Dying With Dignity Canada, Dec. 7, 2016
- Full text of Bill 84, the Medical Assistance in Dying Statute Law Amendment Act (PDF)