TORONTO – Ontario doctors will be permitted to provide assistance in dying to eligible patients within Canada who qualify for publicly funded health care as the federal government works to legislate doctor-assisted suicide.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario on Monday approved its interim guidelines for doctors who are approached by patients seeking help in dying before doctor-assisted suicide becomes legal nationwide on June 6.
The guidelines were amended following 30 days of consultations with doctors and Ontario residents.
An earlier draft limited physicians to providing the service only to Ontario residents.
Other changes include a clarification that conscientious objectors do not have to assess whether a patient is eligible for doctor-assisted death before referring them to another physician.
The Supreme Court found last year that Canadians with unbearable and irremediable suffering could be eligible to end their lives with a doctor’s aid.
The decision to strike down the ban on doctor-assisted dying was set to take effect on Feb. 6 but the federal government obtained a four-month extension, during which those seeking the service must get approval from court.
“We believe this guidance needs to be in place as patients will have the option over this period to apply to a judge for an exception to the current law,” CPSO president Dr. Joel Kirsh said in a statement.
“The public and the profession can be confident that we have given careful consideration to this important issue, listened to their feedback and provided guidance that is well-informed and balanced.”
The college regulating the medical profession in Nova Scotia, meanwhile, is looking for feedback on a draft standard of practice that includes guidelines for doctors and patients if a doctor-assisted death is requested.
In Quebec, which already has its own law and is exempt from the federal extension, at least one patient has already received a doctor-assisted death.
The province’s law governing what it calls medical aid in dying went into effect Dec. 10. Since then, one patient in Quebec City’s university health care network received the service.
A palliative care centre in Quebec has said it plans to provide the service starting Feb. 1, making it one of the first such centres to do so.
La Maison Aube-Lumiere in Sherbrooke said it initially refused to provide assisted dying but changed its position after consulting staff and volunteers.