Watch: In Bill 84 hearing, Ontario doctor powerfully defends assisted dying referral policy

What happens if doctors in Ontario who refuse to provide assisted dying aren’t required to provide a referral for patients who request it?

In her testimony to MPPs studying the province’s new assisted dying bill, Dr. Chantal Perrot, a provider of medical assistance in dying (MAID) in Ontario, gave a glimpse of the reality for some desperately ill Ontarians whose doctors refused to provide a referral — despite a provincial regulation requiring them to do so. 

Dr. Perrot presented to members of the Ontario Legislature’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs on March 23 during its study of Bill 84, which, if approved, would make changes to the way assisted dying is managed in Ontario. While not addressed in the bill, one issue in particular dominated the two public hearings on Bill 84: a patient’s right to effective referral. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) has established rules that require that a physician who objects to MAID must refer patients who request it to another physician or agency. The policy has been under attack by anti-choice groups, many of whom came out in droves to the hearings.

“Even with [the CPSO] policy in place, over half of the patients that I have seen in the past nine months have suffered from lack of effective referral, meaning their requests for MAID were not acted upon in a timely manner,” Dr. Perrot said. “I can only imagine how bad it would be if there was no policy requiring effective referral at all.”

Currently under fire from that coalition of anti-choice groups, the Ontario government may be wavering in its support of the policy, which Dr. Perrot warned could have devastating consequences for patients.

“Some physicians tell patients to find their own assessors, go online to find out information about MAID, go online to get the forms, et cetera,” she said. “These are very ill, fragile, frail and vulnerable people, many of whom do not have the wherewithal to do these searches, some of whom are physically incapable of using a telephone, let alone a computer.

“To ask them to do this themselves is tantamount to patient abandonment. It is also cruel, imposing a tremendous burden on an already vulnerable person.”

Dr. Perrot said the CPSO’s effective referral policy “balances the rights of true conscientious objectors with the rights of patients to access a legal medical service. The focus should be on enforcing the policy, not eliminating or eroding it.”

To read the full transcript of Dr. Perrot's presentation, click here. If you want to raise your voice and tell your MPP to speak out for fair provincial rules for assisted dying that don't abandon the critically ill, click here.

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