Medical assistance in dying: An enormous change in Canadian Social Policy.

Author:Mitchell, Teresa

On June 17, 2016, Canada passed Bill C-14, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code, to enable citizens to access medical assistance in dying. Canada now joins a small group of countries and U.S. states that give their citizens such an option. It came about because of the Carter case, a Supreme Court of Canada decision that mandated Parliament to create a law to help grievously ill and suffering Canadians end their lives with dignity. Here are the main components of the new law.

  1. The Criminal Code has been changed so that doctors and nurse practitioners, and those who help them, such as social workers, lawyers, and pharmacists, can provide medical assistance in dying for eligible patients without the risk of being charged with assisted suicide or homicide.

  2. Medical assistance in dying is available to a person who:

    * is eligible for health care in Canada; and

    * is at least 18 years old, who is mentally competent (capable of making health care decisions for themselves); and

    * has a grievous and irremediable medical condition; and

    * makes a voluntary request for medical assistance in dying, which is not the result of pressure from other people; and

    * gives informed consent to receive medical assistance in dying.

  3. A person has a grievous and irremediable medical condition if:

    * he or she has a serious illness, disease, or disability; and

    * he or she is in an advanced state of irreversible decline; and

    * he or she is experiencing intolerable suffering from the illness, disease, disability, or state of decline; and,

    * natural death has become reasonably foreseeable, taking into account all medical circumstances.

  4. Two types of medical assistance in dying are permitted:

    * a doctor or nurse practitioner directly administers a substance that causes the death of the person who requested it, commonly called voluntary euthanasia;


    * a doctor or nurse practitioner gives or prescribes a substance to the person that can be self-administered to cause death; commonly called physician or medically assisted suicide.

    The Criminal Code will now allow doctors and nurse practitioners to provide both types of medical assistance in dying.

  5. Safeguards built into the Criminal Code include:

    * the request for medical assistance in dying must be in writing by the person requesting it, or another adult on the person's behalf and in the person's presence if he or she is unable to sign and date the request, and witnessed by two independent witnesses;

    * independent witnesses...

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