Recent Physician Assisted Suicide or Euthanasia Developments

From time to time the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) releases Policy Alerts to our membership. Much has happened lately around euthanasia and assisted suicide so we thought it would be timely to send a Policy Alert.

CHPCA has a Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Task Group that is actively monitoring this issue. Lately, there has been much debate over physician assisted suicide or euthanasia. In June 2012, the B.C. Supreme Court stated that suicide is not illegal. But, people living with physical disabilities who are unable to commit suicide without assistance are denied this option. This dichotomy was deemed unconstitutional by Justice Lynn Smith, who ruled in favour of the right to assisted suicide. Justice Smith granted Gloria Taylor a year long exception to the existing ban, enabling her to make her own decisions about her life and death. The judge also suspended the ruling for a year, allowing time to change current legislation. There is still the potential for an appeal of Gloria Taylor’s case. Moreover, a change in these laws must be approved by parliament. An appeal is expected in this case that may go right to the Supreme Court of Canada so no changes should be seen quickly.

In March 2012, the Special Commission on Dying with Dignity (Commission spéciale sur la question de mourir dans la dignité) released the report, Dying with Dignity. The Committee made 24 recommendations to the Minister of Health and Social Services as to how end-of-life care should be improved in Quebec. The Commission report was a strong first step towards implementing standardized hospice palliative care in Quebec so that all patients may have the highest quality of life and quality of dying, however, there were also several recommendations around the legalization of physician assisted suicide in Quebec. Please click here to read the full report (currently available in French only).

In light of these developments, the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and the Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Task Group will be re-launching a larger campaign around the need for hospice palliative care in Canada. In 2010, we launched the “Let’s Talk about Hospice Palliative Care Instead” campaign, which encouraged hospice palliative care professionals to re-direct the discussion around euthanasia and assisted suicide to the need for hospices palliative care. The hope is to differentiate between the two issues that seem to be getting confused in Canadians minds. In fall 2012, we will resume a similar campaign, in an effort to shift the recent public dialogue from euthanasia and the more negative views of death, to high quality hospice palliative care and living until the end.

Stay tuned for more, this promises to be a great initiative!

Have a wonderful summer,

Sharon Baxter
Executive Director
Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association