Proposed Ontario rules would limit transparency around assisted dying

A new bill tabled at Queen’s Park on Wednesday threatens to impede Ontarians’ right to access important information regarding healthcare facilities’ policies on medical assistance in dying.

Introduced by Health Minister Eric Hoskins, the bill, if approved, would amend Ontario’s freedom-of-information laws to shield public bodies from having to produce records related to assisted dying that identify individual medical practitioners and healthcare facilities.

The leading organization helping Canadians to avoid unwanted, unnecessary suffering at end of life, Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) is speaking out against allowing public healthcare institutions to hide their policies on medical assistance in dying and other information on whether the service is available on-site.

“While protecting the privacy of practitioners is essential, public healthcare facilities have no right to hide their policies from Ontarians, especially those who are navigating difficult choices at end of life,” said DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool. “These institutions have a duty to be accountable to the community members they serve.”

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins tabled the bill at Queen's Park on Wednesday. (Government of Ontario)

This proposal, Gokool said, creates an additional cloud of uncertainty at a time when Ontarians want clarity on how medical assistance in dying is being integrated into the province’s public healthcare system.

DWDC is also raising concerns about an amendment in the bill that would require all assisted deaths to be reported to the coroner. This reporting requirement has been in place in Ontario since the passage of federal assisted dying legislation in June, but the new Ontario bill would ensconce it in provincial law.

“Provincial coroners are mandated to investigate deaths that are sudden or suspicious,” Gokool said. “Assisted deaths are neither. Canadians can only ever access an assisted death after painstaking consideration and after satisfying the numerous legislative and regulatory safeguards that are in place. Sending their cases to the coroner risks stigmatizing their choice and could create a chill for doctors who want to help their patients achieve a peaceful end to their lives.”

She encouraged the province to work together with the federal government to develop monitoring systems that respect patients’ dignity and provide policymakers with high-quality data. 

Despite DWDC’s concerns about the flaws in the bill, Gokool welcomed a proposal that would protect healthcare practitioners who play a supporting role in the lawful provision of assisted dying. Another positive aspect of the bill, she said, is a policy that would make it illegal to use assisted dying as a justification for refusing to pay benefits on a legitimate insurance claim.

The tabling of new assisted dying legislation comes on the same day as MPPs voted to approve Bill 41, which makes sweeping changes to the province’s healthcare system. DWDC has condemned a provision in the bill that further empowers faith-based but publicly funded hospitals to ban assisted dying on their premises.

“Putting hospitals’ politics before Ontarians’ rights was unacceptable when Bill 41 was tabled, and it’s unacceptable now,” Gokool said. “The government must change course, and we urge them to create a framework that makes it easier — not more difficult — for residents to make healthcare decisions at perhaps the most vulnerable point in their lives.”

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