Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

iStockphoto/iStockphoto

A parliamentary committee's recommendation that doctors who object to assisted dying be required to at least refer patients to a willing colleague is not only disappointing, but has also led some physicians to consider leaving their practices, says the Canadian Medical Association.

The all-party committee, which released a set of recommendations Thursday aimed at helping the federal government draft new right-to-die legislation, said Ottawa should work with the provinces and territories to establish a process that respects a doctor's freedom of conscience, while honouring the needs of patients who seek medical aid in dying.

"At a minimum, the objecting practitioner must provide an effective referral for the patient," the committee said.

Story continues below advertisement

The CMA, which represents about 80,000 physicians across the country, had argued during hearings to the committee that doctors who oppose assisted dying on grounds of conscience should not be required to refer patients to a colleague willing to provide or administer drugs that would end their lives.

"We were very disappointed to see it not incorporated into the recommendations," said Dr. Jeff Blackmer, the CMA's vice-president of medical professionalism.

Referral has been a hot-button issue among members of the physicians group, with many arguing that doctors should not be coerced into providing the service, nor should they be required to ease the path to assisted death when it runs counter to their religious, moral or ethical beliefs.

"There are physicians who see making a referral as morally analogous to doing the act itself," Blackmer said Friday from Ottawa.

"It means you know what will result from that referral. So for physicians who feel very strongly opposed to assisted dying, a number of them say: 'If I refer to another physician and I know that they will themselves undertake the act of assisted dying, I'm automatically morally complicit because I facilitated the process."'

Blackmer said the CMA had proposed an alternative: the creation of a central information hub to facilitate access to doctor-aided death, which conscientious objectors could point out to patients who desired to terminate their lives.

Objecting physicians would be required to provide detailed information to a patient and their family "so they could access that central service readily and in a very timely fashion, with no barriers whatsoever," he said. Physicians would also have to transfer the patient's records on request.

Story continues below advertisement

But Blackmer said the proposal was not even mentioned in the committee's report, despite having the backing of Dying With Dignity Canada and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, two of the groups that spearheaded the legal battle to overturn the long-standing ban on assisted death.

"I in no way mean to sound alarmist, but I have heard from some colleagues that are near retirement age that if this does become enshrined in legislation, they will retire," he said of the proposed requirement to directly refer patients. "I know some colleagues who have said they'll move to a U.S. state.

"I don't think those numbers are going to be huge, but certainly there is a subset of physicians who feel strongly enough about this that they would absolutely make changes in their practice, based on what the legislation might look like."

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled a year ago that individuals with unbearable suffering from a grievous and irremediable condition could seek a doctor's help to die. Ottawa has until June 6 to pass new legislation reflecting the court's landmark decision.

In the meantime, the CMA hopes to meet with federal justice and health department officials to go through the recommendations and look for common ground on contentious issues such as obligatory referrals.

"We're more than convinced that common ground exists," said Blackmer. "If the rationale for requiring mandatory referral is to ensure access, that's very much a false dichotomy. There's no need to require mandatory referral to ensure access.

Story continues below advertisement

"And you don't need to look any further than other jurisdictions that have legalized assisted dying," he said of such countries as Belgium and the Netherlands. "None of them has a requirement for referral and none of them has an issue with access."

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies