Lawyers' group urges 'harmonized' system for assisted dying

The largest organization representing Canadian lawyers has come out with a strong statement urging the federal and provincial governments to create rules for assisted dying that would be consistent across the country.

At its annual national conference last weekend, members of the Canadian Bar Association, which represents more than 37,000 legal professionals, voted in favour of a resolution urging Ottawa and the provinces to pass new legislation in response to the Supreme Court’s February ruling in Carter v. Canada. The decision, which will come into effect on Feb. 6, 2016, struck down this country’s Criminal Code ban on assisted dying and set out guidelines for who will be legally eligible to die with the help of a doctor.

The CBA resolution calls for both levels of government to enact “harmonized legislation” that establishes “clear pathways for timely access to physician-assisted dying” and “procedural safeguards that protect individuals who seek physician-assisted dying but do not impose unreasonable restrictions that would prevent those meeting the [Supreme Court of Canada] criteria from accessing physician-assisted dying.”

Also in the resolution is a call for “a system of oversight that ensures meaningful retrospective review of cases and the collection and public reporting of data on physician assisted dying in Canada.”

The CBA vote came less than a week after 11 of Canada’s provinces and territories announced they had struck their own expert panel to research possible legislative responses to the Supreme Court’s decision.

The expert panel features bioethicists, researchers and healthcare executives from across the country and will complement the work of the federal government’s consultation on assisted dying. In a news release sent out Friday, Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said the panel will “focus on the needs of patients and their families.”

“We are delighted to see the provinces take comprehensive and compassionate leadership on this critical human rights issue,” said Wanda Morris, CEO of Dying With Dignity Canada, on Friday. “It is very refreshing to see movement from government leaders that puts the needs and concerns of patients first.”

The resolution is available for download on the Canadian Bar Association's website.

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