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CMA takes recommendations for assisted dying legislation to Parliament Hill

Canadian Medical Association (CMA) President Dr. Cindy Forbes was in Ottawa Jan. 27 to present the association’s Principles-based Recommendations for a Canadian Approach to Assisted Dying to the House-Senate Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying.

Dr. Forbes, accompanied by Dr. Jeff Blackmer, vice-president of Medical Professionalism, briefed the committee on the physician and patient perspectives concerning the need for a pan-Canadian approach to physician-assisted dying, including a federal legislative response.

As well as providing an overview of the association’s public and member consultations on end-of-life care, Dr. Forbes flagged two critical issues for consideration of the Special Joint Committee.

First, in drafting legislation, parliamentarians must ensure the legislative and regulatory framework achieves an appropriate balance between physicians’ ability to follow their conscience and patient rights to access to end-of-life care, Dr. Forbes said.

Physician opinions are divided on the issue of assisted dying and the Supreme Court of Canada’s Carter decision has opened the way for a very significant change for physicians. The CMA supports physicians who will choose to provide or participate in assistance in dying and those who will choose not to provide or participate in it.

“Part of the joint obligation of governments and stakeholders is to ensure effective patient access by putting in place sufficient resources and systems”, said Dr. Forbes. “The CMA’s framework accounts for differences of conscience by recommending the creation of resources to facilitate patient access.”

The second critical issue underscored by Dr. Forbes is the need for legislators to develop a consistent, pan-Canadian framework in the new law.

“It is critical that we provide clarity for physicians and their patients and develop a consistent approach across all jurisdictions,” she told the committee. “The CMA is keenly aware of the risk if we don’t—that a patchwork of differing and potentially conflicting approaches may easily emerge. And that would not serve anyone well.”

Dr. Forbes stressed that physicians want to cooperate with legislators to help them meet the deadline for new legislation established by the Supreme Court.

“We look to Parliament for leadership to support the development of a pan-Canadian, national approach. The CMA’s framework provides critical guidance for decision-makers in this respect.”

The Special Joint Committee was appointed to make recommendations to Parliament on the framework for the federal response on physician-assisted dying by Feb. 26.

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