Medical colleges play 'God' with new rules for assisted dying

A new report in the National Post raises troubling questions about how Canada's provincial medical regulators are preparing for the looming decriminalization of physician assisted dying.

The provinces’ medical colleges have been busy crafting their own rules for how physicians should handle requests for medical aid in dying. And according to an article by National Post health reporter Sharon Kirkey, it appears the regulatory frameworks will vary widely from one province to the next.

In the absence of rules that are consistent across the country, doctors’ moral judgments may play an outsized role in whether or not a patient is granted his or wish to assisted death, warn medical ethicists quoted in the story.

For example, Amir Attaran, a law professor and health policy expert at the University of Ottawa, condemned draft rules from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta that ultimately leave it up to doctors to decide whether a patient’s condition is severe enough to justify an assisted death.

“On the one hand they say the patient has the right to identify ‘intolerable suffering’ and on the other hand they say it is within the doctor’s gift to decide what is ‘grievous,’ ” he told the Post.

“So are we to infer, then, that there could be intolerable-but-not-grievous suffering, where the doctor is entitled not to act?”

“These colleges think that they’re not simply God, but that they’re an assembly of gods,” Attaran said. “They simply do not understand that in the eyes of the law, doctors are not gods, they’re service providers.”

Physician assisted dying is set to be decriminalized across Canada on Feb. 6, 2016 in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision in Carter v. Canada. When the ruling comes into effect, it will no longer be illegal for a doctor to offer assistance in dying for cases in which a consenting adult patient is experiencing “grievous and irremediable suffering.”

Read the full report on the National Post's website.

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