New assisted dying laws not coming before election

The federal government isn’t planning to introduce new assisted dying legislation before the upcoming election, Justice Minister Peter MacKay revealed on Monday.

However, according to a report by The Canadian Press, he said Ottawa will soon unveil details about an upcoming nationwide consultation on end-of-life choice that is set to kick off in the summer.

Nearly three months have passed since the Supreme Court ruled to strike down the Criminal Code ban on physician assisted dying. The law will officially expire in February 2016, meaning lawmakers and healthcare regulators have just over nine months to craft new rules.

DWD Canada CEO Wanda Morris expressed concern about the lack of government action on the assisted dying file.

"Unless there is clarity about the future of end-of-life choice in Canada, Canadians will continue to suffer without the peace of mind of knowing that, if worst comes to worst, there is an alternative to a terrible death," she said.

"Eighty-four per cent of Canadians support physician assisted dying. It is time for governments to stop viewing this as a controversial issue and to start putting in place the necessary regulatory framework so that no one suffers needlessly at end of life."

The Quebec daily Le Devoir broke the news last week about the federal government’s plans to hold a six-month public consultation on assisted dying. According to an article by reporter Hélène Buzzetti, a commission with three or four appointees is set to embark in June on a cross-country tour to probe Canadians views on this very sensitive social issue.

The commission would likely report back to Parliament in December — after the next election, which, by law, cannot take place any later than October 25.

When asked for comment last week, MacKay wouldn’t confirm the details, but said more information would be made available “sooner than later.”

A Way Forward for a National Framework?

Monday’s announcement roughly coincided with the publication of an enlightening new blog post by Dalhousie University law professor and medical ethics expert Jocelyn Downie. In the article, posted to the bioethics blog Impact Ethics, she writes that Canada could develop a “robust national framework for the regulation of physician-assisted dying” — despite the fact that, according to Canada’s constitution, the provincial governments are mostly responsible for the provision of health care.

She goes on to offer a couple possibilities for how national system might be achieved. It's definitely a worthwhile read.

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