A group of physicians say they were turned away from providing their perspective on proposed changes to the assisted-dying law.
The doctors, along with Conservative MPs, said Thursday the Liberals placed an arbitrary cutoff on accepting submissions to the committee studying the bill without telling anyone, and that led to multiple submissions from physicians being rejected.
“As an emergency and family doctor, I know the importance of consultation, along with the day to day experiences and sufferings of Canadians which cannot be ignored,” said Dr. Adam Taylor, who appeared alongside other colleagues and two Conservative MPs Thursday at a press conference. “I’m terrifically concerned about this.”
The bill, C-7, is in response to a Quebec court ruling last fall that struck down a provision in the existing legislation that restricted access to a doctor-assisted death to those whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable.
The new bill would allow access both for those who are near death, and those who aren’t, with more stringent rules applied in those circumstances.
For those deemed to be near death, the government is proposing to drop the requirement that a person must wait 10 days after being approved for an assisted death before receiving the procedure. It would also reduce the number of witnesses needed to one from two.
It also proposes to drop the requirement that a person must be able to give consent a second time immediately before receiving the procedure.
Several physicians at Thursday’s news conference said removing the waiting period, and the need for a second sign-off, raises the risk of people requesting and receiving medical assistance in dying (MAID) on the same day, when perhaps that wasn’t what they truly wanted.
“In my clinical experience, many requests for MAID actually requested a need for good quality palliative care, and providing that care to the patient actually changed the request for MAID and changed their decisions,” said Dr. Stephanie Kafie.
The bill is now being studied by the justice committee after passing second reading in the House of Commons 246-78 in late October.
The Conservatives have argued the government should have appealed the original court ruling to the Supreme Court, rather than trying to rush legislation through Parliament to meet a twice-extended, court-imposed deadline of Dec. 18.
But many in the party have broader concerns with the bill, and MP Michael Cooper said Thursday they will be introducing amendments.
Among them will be proposals to extend the waiting period for those whose death is not foreseeable beyond the proscribed 90 days, on the grounds that referrals to palliative care supports can sometimes take longer than that.
Cooper said the Tories also want a second witness requirement reinstated, and an amendment that would protect the conscience rights of health-care practitioners who, for moral or religious grounds, refuse to take part in an assisted death or even to refer patients to someone who will.
In May 2019, the Ontario Court of Appeal issued a unanimous ruling that doctors who have moral objections to providing health services like abortion or assisted death must provide patients with an “effective referral”‘ to another doctor.
The assisted-dying law already says explicitly that medical practitioners can’t be compelled to provide assisted deaths.