Province takes control of assisted dying

Doctor standards given force of law in B.C. as provinces await new legislation from Justin Trudeau government

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake

With the federal law against assisted suicide expired as of Tuesday and a replacement not yet approved in Ottawa, the B.C. government has adopted the latest doctors’ standards as the law until the situation is clarified.

New professional standards set by the College of Physicians and Surgeons for assisting a patient to die are to be enforced by regulation until the federal law is clear, B.C. Health MInister Terry Lake and Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said in a statement Monday.

“As laid out in the Supreme Court of Canada’s February 2015 ruling, doctors will no longer be prohibited from providing medical assistance in dying to competent, consenting adults who have a grievous or irremediable medical condition that causes enduring, intolerable suffering,” the statement says.

After being pushed through the House of Commons in an effort to meet the court deadline, the Justin Trudeau government’s Bill C-14 was held up in the Senate, with disagreements over assisted suicide for young people and those who are not terminally ill.

The B.C. government notes the court decision refers only to doctors. The province is consulting professional organizations for nurses and pharmacists to clarify their legal situation in participating in assisted death.

Medical assistance in dying requires the consent of two doctors “and the patient’s consistent expression of a desire for medical assistance over a reasonable period of time,” according to the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons professional standards, issued after the Carter v. Canada decision by the Supreme Court.

One of the doctors is permitted to make the decision via video link. The doctor approving a lethal dose of medication must be present during the self-administration or delivery of the medication until death is confirmed.

For doctors who object to assisting someone to die, the standards do not require a formal referral but are required to provide “an effective transfer of care” to another physician.