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“Our work is far from finished”: CMA to continue leadership role on end-of-life care

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) will continue to take a leadership role in responding to the Supreme Court decision striking down the Criminal Code prohibition on physician-assisted dying.

At its recent meeting, the CMA Board of Directors endorsed a wide-ranging communications and consultation strategy with the public, members and other stakeholders.

“Our members and our patients expect the CMA to continue to play an active role in the discussions on this important issue,” said CMA President Chris Simpson. “Much has been accomplished already, but our work is far from finished in terms of ensuring the vulnerable are protected, and providing clarity for Canadian physicians.”

The next phase of CMA’s work will be based on several foundational principles that were also endorsed in principle by the board:

  • Respect for patient autonomy
  • Equity — all Canadians who meet the criteria should have access to assisted dying, as for any other medically approved intervention
  • Consent— all requirements for patient consent must be clearly met and patients should be capable of making an informed decision free from undue coercion
  • Clarity — there should be no “grey areas” in legislation or regulations so that the process to be followed and the patients who will qualify for assisted dying are clear to everyone
  • Dignity — patients and their families should be treated with respect and dignity
  • Accountability — there should be a reporting and oversight mechanism
  • Respect for conscientious objection by physicians and other care providers; no physician or other health care provider should be forced to take part in any aspect of the assisted dying process against their wishes

The CMA committee on ethics will meet in April to further consider a draft regulatory framework based on these principles that the CMA could use to work with the federal government and other bodies drafting legislation and regulations.

In June and July, the CMA will undertake focused consultations with its members and stakeholders on this framework, leading to a discussion at the CMA General Council meeting in Halifax in August.

Earlier, the CMA applauded debate on the opposition motion in the House of Commons on the issue.

In a statement, Simpson said the CMA recognizes the important leadership role to be played by the federal government on physician-assisted dying. Simpson stressed that patient needs must be respected and the physician perspective reflected in any new legislation.

Simpson also reiterated the importance of the availability of better palliative care in Canada. He said that while the Supreme Court decision was historic, “good palliative care will always be the cornerstone of quality end-of-life care.”

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