Tag: Medical Assistance in Dying
Since the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark decision in Carter v Canada (Attorney General) and the subsequent decriminalization of medical assistance in dying (“MAID”) in 2016, there has been considerable debate regarding the accessibility of MAID.
Currently, MAID is available only to individuals able to satisfy the following test (set out in the Criminal Code):
- they are eligible — or, but for any applicable minimum period of residence or waiting period, would be eligible — for health services funded by a government in Canada;
- they are at least 18 years of age and capable of making decisions with respect to their health;
- they have a grievous and irremediable medical condition;
- they have made a voluntary request for medical assistance in dying that, in particular, was not made as a result of external pressure; and
- they give informed consent to receive medical assistance in dying after having been informed of the means that are available to relieve their suffering, including palliative care.
The criteria do not feature any mechanism for providing advance consent to MAID. Similarly, an attorney or guardian of personal care cannot consent on behalf of the patient at the time of the procedure, once he or she loses the capacity to consent him or herself.
As it currently stands, an individual who qualifies for MAID must consent at the time of the procedure, before he or she may suffer from diminished mental capacity that compromises the patient’s ability to provide informed consent. In some cases, this has resulted in individuals accessing MAID before they otherwise may have chosen to do so to ensure that they would not be exposed to prolonged suffering during a subsequent period of incapacity, during which MAID would not longer be accessible.
Some individuals and groups, including Dying with Dignity Canada, argue that the laws regarding MAID should be amended to provide for the option of providing advanced requests for MAID.
According to a recent Toronto Star article (“No rush to change assisted-death law”, published on February 17, 2019), Justice Minister David Lametti has stated that MAID laws will not be updated in advance of a five-year parliamentary review in 2021 of how the current MAID regime is operating. At that time, it will no doubt be difficult in considering any changes to balance the rights of those with grievous and irremediable medical conditions to die with dignity on one hand, and the protection of individuals who are vulnerable and whose capable wishes can no longer be confirmed on the other.
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Section 241.1 of the Criminal Code sets out a detailed procedure for determining when medical assistance in dying can be provided. However, the medical and legal communities are still grappling with the application of the provisions.
In A.B. v. Canada (Attorney General), 2017 ONSC 3759 (CanLII), two physicians concluded that AB met the criteria for a medically assisted death. A third doctor, however, did not, as he felt that AB did not meet the Criminal Code requirement that a natural death was reasonably foreseeable. Although only two medical opinions are required, the opinion of the third doctor had a chilling effect on one of the other physicians, who declined to provide assistance to AB for fear of being charged with murder.
AB then applied to court for a determination that she met the requirements of the Criminal Code, and a declaration that she may receive medical assistance in dying.
Justice Perell, who had previously considered the issue of assisted death in another proceeding, heard the application.
Ontario and Canada took the position that a declaration should not issue, as the regime established by the Criminal Code does not require judicial pre-authorization. Further, the civil courts should not issue a declaration as such a declaration would interfere with the prosecutorial discretion of the Crown by predetermining criminal liability.
Justice Perell agreed with the position of Ontario and Canada. However, he felt that their position was “as unhelpful as it is technically correct.” The practical effect of such a position was that AB qualified for medically assisted death, but no physician was prepared to assist.
In his decision, Perell J. thoroughly reviews the legislative history of medical assistance in dying. He agrees that it is the medical practitioner and not the court that is to decide whether the Criminal Code criteria are satisfied. He agrees that the court cannot make the decision for them.
However, Perell J. expresses that some form of declaration would be “useful” and have “utility”.
Perell J. walks a fine line in his decision. He accepts that the court is not to make declarations that the Criminal Code criteria for assisted death are met: that must be done by the medical practitioner or nurse practitioner: s. 241.2(3)(a). What Perell J. does, however, is attempt to clarify what is meant by s. 241.(2)(d): the provision that requires the person to meet the criteria that “their natural death has become reasonably foreseeable”. As a matter of statutory interpretation, he declares that in AB’s case, AB’s natural death is reasonably foreseeable.
Perell J. cautions that in making a declaration, he is not conferring immunity on the physicians from prosecution. He also states that he is not finding that courts could or should grant pre-approvals for persons seeking medical assistance in dying. It is unclear as to whether this will provide much comfort to medical practitioners.
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For many Canadians, one or more life insurance policies represent an important component of an estate plan. If a policy cannot be honoured as a result of the cause of the insured’s death, this may completely frustrate his or her testamentary wishes.
The terms of life insurance policies typically address the issue of whether a beneficiary will be entitled to the insurance proceeds in the event that an individual commits suicide. Policy terms typically include a restriction as to the payout of the policy if the insured dies by his or her own hands within a certain of number of years from the date on which the policy is taken out (most often two years).
With the decriminalization of physician-assisted death, there was initially some concern regarding whether medical assistance in dying would be distinguished from suicide for the purposes of life insurance. The preamble to the related federal legislation, however, distinguishes between the act of suicide and obtaining medical assistance in dying.
As mentioned by Suzana Popovic-Montag in a recent blog entry, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association suggested in 2016 that, if a Canadian follows the legislated process for obtaining medial assistance in dying, life insurance providers will pay out on policies that are less than two years old. Since then, the Medical Assistance in Dying Statute Law Amendment Act, 2017 has come into force to provide protection and clarity for Ontario patients and their families. This legislation has resulted in amendments to various provincial legislation, including the Excellent Care for All Act, 2010, a new section of which now reads as follows:
…the fact that a person received medical assistance in dying may not be invoked as a reason to deny a right or refuse a benefit or any other sum which would otherwise be provided under a contract or statute…unless an express contrary intention appears in the statute.
The amendments provided for within the legislation introduced by the Ontario government represent an important step in the recognition of physician-assisted death as a right that is distinguishable from the act of suicide. They also confirm the right of individuals who access medical assistance in dying to benefit their survivors with life insurance policies or other benefits.
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Other blog posts that may be of interest: