WATCH: Doctor assisted dying is no longer illegal in Canada but Parliament failed to pass new legislation in time, leaving patients and doctors in limbo. Tess van Straaten reports.
Victoria doctor Bill Cavers has been practicing family medicine in the B.C. Capital for more than 35 years — and he’s worried.
“Right now, doctors are in no-man’s land,” says Dr. Cavers, the former president of Doctors of B.C. “We are in professional limbo right here and I would say it would be very dangerous to step into that limbo without having some very clear supports.”
Doctor-assisted dying is no longer illegal in Canada, as long as the patient is suffering from what the Supreme Court calls a ‘grievous and irremediable’ medical condition that causes intolerable suffering.
But Parliament failed to pass a new law by Monday, outlining how assisted dying will work.
“I am stuck between patients of mine who may request what is supposed to have been a legally accessible service and there’s no indication of what I’m supposed to do,” Dr. Cavers says.
In the absence of new legislation, the provinces and territories will provide their own guidelines — which is a big concern for Canada’s health minister.
“We will have a patchwork approach to protection of the vulnerable, as safeguards vary across the country,” says federal health minister Jane Philpott.
B.C. issues standards for doctor assisted dying
Here in B.C., the College of Physicians and Surgeons has issued standards for medical assistance in dying and the B.C. Government is giving them the weight of law.
Unlike Bill C14, which is now before the senate, they include psychological conditions.
“The federal legislation may be narrower than the (Supreme Court) Carter decision currently is so there may be people who want to seek medical assistance in dying before that federal legislation is in place,” says B.C. health minister Terry Lake.
With so much uncertainty, the Canadian Medical Association says proceeding without the law could be risky.
“That’s because if they get taken to court and a judge says we don’t think that this patient met the grievous and irremediable criteria set out in Carter, they will be liable for that,” Dr. Jeff Blackmer of the CMA points out.
Dr. Cavers agrees and says patients will suffer as a result.
“I’m very concerned that there are going to be some patients who are going to be left out in the cold because of this.”