What the Supreme Court of Canada decision on physician-assisted dying means for physicians

Statement from the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) concerning the Supreme Court - Carter assisted dying decision.

"This means that at this time it remains illegal for anyone, including physicians, to counsel, aid, or abet a person to commit suicide."

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously declared the criminal prohibition against physician-assisted dying unconstitutional. While the February 6, 2015 decision is important, the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) wants physicians to keep in mind several important facts.

The most important is that the Court suspended the decision for 12 months to give Parliament and the provincial legislatures time to enact legislation, and medical regulatory authorities (Colleges) and medical associations time to develop policies and guidelines. This means that at this time it remains illegal for anyone, including physicians, to counsel, aid, or abet a person to commit suicide.

The Court’s decision is also limited to situations in which the patient is a competent adult person who clearly consents to the termination of life. In addition, the patient must be suffering from “…a grievous and irremediable medical condition […] that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”1

In an attempt to clarify what might be considered a “grievous and irremediable medical condition,” the Court stated that it includes an illness, disease, or disability. Moreover, the term “irremediable” is not intended to require the patient to attempt treatments that the patient considers unacceptable.2

The Court expressly recognized a physician’s right to refuse to assist a patient to die based on freedom of conscience. The Court deferred to Parliament, provincial legislatures, and Colleges to establish appropriate frameworks that reconcile the Charter rights of patients and physicians.

Link to the full article