October 21, 2020

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Advocacy group pans college's stand on assisted suicide

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/10/2015 (1829 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

DYING with Dignity urged the province Friday to put the wishes of patients first, ahead of the wishes of doctors, when it comes to the practice of physician-assisted suicide.

The national organization of about 10,000 is the first group to publicly respond to a draft position released last week by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba.

The college's position amounts to putting doctors' moral objections ahead of patients' needs, Dying with Dignity spokeswoman Shanaaz Gokool said.

The college, which regulates doctors in the province, released its long-expected draft guideline Thursday and announced it is seeking public feedback through an online survey by Nov. 15.

As set out, the draft position contains a stringent framework to guide doctors who agree to help patients die.

It also gives them an out: doctors with moral objections don't have to help or refer patients to other sympathetic doctors. At the same time, they can't drop patients who want help dying until another doctor takes their care.

"This isn't about whether or not the (college) agrees with physician-assisted dying," the college's registrar said in a statement released with the draft position. "It is about the (college) fulfilling its statutory obligations to protect the public by ensuring there are appropriate standards/requirements of Manitoba physicians in place when physician-assisted dying is no longer illegal."

In a ruling eight months ago, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down criminal prohibitions against physician-assisted suicide. It becomes legal on Feb. 6, 2016.

Given the court decision, Manitoba's guideline falls short of the standards that should be in place, Dying With Dignity countered.

"There are two main problems with the Manitoba statement," Gokool said. "There isn't a duty to refer and there's also not a duty to provide a patient with information about physicians who would assist with dying.

"People who are horrifically ill and suffering terribly aren't going to have the physical or emotional wherewithal to find another doctor. They can't be left to their own devices to find a physician. They have to have support," she said.

The Manitoba position follows Ontario and Alberta, where colleges have released guidelines in an effort to balance physicians' personal values and patients' needs.

Ontario called for doctors who object on moral grounds to refer patients to other doctors. Alberta took the position Manitoba has adopted.

Meanwhile, the country's leading political advocate on physician-assisted suicide, Winnipeg Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, commended the college and the advocacy group for advancing the public debate.

"The college has done a reasonable thing by setting out a draft to get a response and Dying with Dignity is well within its rights to provide a point of view. The fact is the law (to lift legal barriers) will be in place by Feb. 6. These are issues the public needs to engage and colleges need to engage but politicians are terrible at addressing," Fletcher said.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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