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assisted dying

Ontario's Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins is pictured at Queen’s Park in Toronto on March 5, 2015.Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday that critically ill people in the province can seek a doctor's help to end their life even before the federal government comes up with new legislation on assisted dying.

The province worked with the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons so protocols would be in place, and will wait for the federal legislation to see if those protocols need to be updated, added Wynne.

"It is possible for people to get this procedure," Wynne said.

"They would have to work through their doctor, but will no longer have to go to Superior Court to get medically assisted death service."

However, Ontario's health minister and attorney general both advised families and doctors to seek court approval for assisted death until the federal government passes new legislation.

"We recommend that in the absence of any specific federal legislation that the family and health care provider pursue and gain the assistance of the court system," said Health Minister Eric Hoskins.

Added Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur: "To make sure they are in compliance with the Supreme Court, the health professional will be advised by their association to go to Superior Court. The doctor has to show the court that the capacity of the individual is in compliance with the criteria set up by the Supreme Court."

Meilleur couldn't say how long it would take someone seeking a medically assisted death to get approval through the courts, but said anyone who applied in the past six months found it was dealt with "efficiently and in a timely manner."

Ontario set up a referral service so physicians unwilling or unable to provide medically assisted dying can connect patients with those who are willing.

"We have an obligation to our professional health-care workers with regards to striking that balance," said Hoskins.

The province will also ensure that patients seeking medically assisted death won't have to pay for the medications they need.

"Effective today we'll be making those drugs available at no cost to Ontarians," added Hoskins.

Monday marked the Supreme Court of Canada deadline for the federal government to come up with a new law on medically assisted dying, but the legislation from the Liberal government remained before the Senate.

The Supreme Court last year struck down the ban on assisted dying as a violation of the Charter right to life, liberty and security of the person.

Hoskins urged the federal government to pass legislation on assisted dying as quickly as possible so a national framework could be established on the practice, and contacted Senators from Ontario Monday to encourage them to vote in favour of the bill.

"There are amendments that will have to go back through the House of Commons, through the parliamentary process as well," he said. "It's important that that legislation, federally, be in place so we have that systemacross the country."

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said he hopes the country isn't in a "grey period" too long before new federal legislation is passed into law and questioned public support in Ontario for the idea of medically assisted dying.

"I'm worried we're not ready, but you know there is a democratic debate happening, and it's important that debate takes place, especially on an issue that is as important and personal as this," said Brown.