Ontario legislature passes assisted dying bill

The passage of Bill 84 is a “mixed blessing” for the implementation of assisted dying in the province of Ontario, Dying With Dignity Canada says.

MPPs at Queen’s Park voted 48 to 39 on Tuesday to pass Bill 84, which makes several changes to how medical assistance in dying is managed in the province of Ontario. The leading organization helping Canadians avoid unwanted, unnecessary suffering at end of life, Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) says most of the legislation’s proposals are patient-centred.

However, the bill contains changes to the provincial freedom-of-information laws that will make it more difficult for residents and human-rights organizations to monitor the implementation of medical assistance in dying (MAID) in the province. In particular, Bill 84 shields public bodies from having to produce records related to assisted dying that identify healthcare facilities.

“This law is a mixed blessing,” said DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool. “Though it provides added clarity and protection for residents and clinicians who are involved in MAID, Bill 84 provides cover to healthcare institutions that do not want to share their MAID policies with their communities. This threatens to impose additional confusion and other hardships upon vulnerable Ontarians who are trying to navigate their end-of-life rights.”

During committee hearings on Bill 84, Brian Beamish, the province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, spoke out against the exemption surrounding healthcare facilities. The proposal, he said, is not justified based on evidence from other jurisdictions where MAID is legal, and it threatens to “hinder transparency and accountability” surrounding access to MAID. “We’re perplexed as to why the government would ignore the advice of its own privacy commissioner,” said Gokool. “Shielding public healthcare facilities from having to disclose their policies on MAID upholds neither the privacy nor the safety of patients and their clinicians.”

Government MPPs deserve credit, however, for blocking a proposal that would have empowered healthcare practitioners who oppose MAID to impede Ontarians’ access to choice, Gokool said. Currently, a provincial regulation imposed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario requires doctors who oppose MAID to refer patients who request it to another provider or a third-party agency. The Progressive Conservatives had tabled amendments that threatened to undermine the CPSO rule on effective referral, but these proposals were not reflected in the final bill.

“The CPSO’s policy on effective referral successfully balances physicians’ right to conscience and Ontarians’ right to compassionate care,” Gokool said. “To take away this rule would be to suggest that it’s acceptable for physicians to impede Ontarians’ access to care during their time of greatest vulnerability and need.”

A coalition led by the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada has launched a court challenge against the CPSO’s policy on effective referral. DWDC has been certified as an official intervener in the case, which is set to go to court in June. Dying With Dignity Canada has made a written submission in the case which you can download here.

“We at Dying With Dignity Canada will vigourously defend protocols that promote fair, timely access to MAID and uphold the rights and choices of vulnerable Canadians,” said Gokool. “We ask the Government of Ontario to commit to doing the same.”

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