B.C. adopts temporary assisted death protection

Doctors, pharmacists and nurses protected by prosecution guidelines while federal politicians argue over new suicide law

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould

Crown prosecutors in B.C. have been instructed to follow the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark assisted suicide case when considering charges, until the federal government passes a new law to replace the one struck down June 7.

Provincial charge assessment guidelines apply to pharmacists and nurses as well as doctors involved in assisted death cases. The guidelines say if the conditions set out in the high court decision are met, no charges should be laid.

The federal government’s new legislation was changed by the Senate this week to remove the provision that medically assisted suicide is only allowed for patients who are terminally ill.

The court ruled in February that physician-assisted death is permitted for competent adults who clearly consent to the termination of their life and have “a grievous and irremediable medical condition” including illness or disability that causes “enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual.”

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Health Minister Jane Philpott issued a statement urging that the Senate pass the new federal law quickly.

“There will be serious access problems for Canadian patients who want medical professionals to help them have a peaceful and dignified death, due to legal uncertainty for medical providers,” they said.

The proposed law allows doctors to opt out of assisting suicide, but requires them to refer patients to another doctor to provide what the court now considers a constitutional right.

The B.C. government has told doctors to be guided by the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons professional standards, which require two doctors to consent that the patient is competent to request assisted suicide.