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Doctors to government: don’t delay Bill C-14

With last night’s passage of Bill C-14 passed in the House of Commons, New Brunswick’s doctors are calling on the Senate to also pass the legislation, focused on medical aid in dying. Without this legislation by June 6, doctors and patients will be left without clear government direction on the procedure.

“Doctors are calling on government to get ready for the immediate future when medical aid in dying will be legal,” said Dr John Whelan, President of the New Brunswick Medical Society. “The clock is ticking and we have some things left to figure out on the process to enable patients to receive medical aid in dying. This isn’t something we can finish overnight – it’s the highest of stakes.”

While the Canadian Medical Association has worked with federal legislators for over a year on the issue, provincial doctors have also worked with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Government of New Brunswick, and the Regional Health Authorities on the same topic.

“Patients should know that dozens of doctors around the province are working on this issue as we speak, and have been for months,” said Dr Whelan. “What we need now is final clarity from regulators on the details which remain.”

While the Supreme Court pushed the issue to the forefront of the agenda last year with their landmark decision in the Carter case, Dr Whelan stressed that much work remains before a physician and patient can have an informed and structured conversation about the issue.

“Government needs to do their work on determining eligibility for procedure, for example, but we believe there are as many or more details to be figured out by doctors and patients,” he said. “For example, what forms need to be created? What are the medications involved? What protections exist for patients and for doctors? These are the issues we’ve been working on, side by side with doctors from other provinces.”

Now, with the Senate approval of Bill C-14 expected to be contentious, it is unlikely many physicians will participate on the Supreme Court’s deadline of June 6 without more regulatory certainty. “We don’t expect dozens of patients to start the conversation with their doctor a week from now, but some doctors will be in the situation of being willing to provide the procedure but not moving forward if they aren't 100% sure of the process involved.”

Dr Whelan notes that in New Brunswick, the relationship among government, medical regulators, the Regional Health Authorities and the Medical Society has been strong on the issue so far.

“We haven’t been sitting around – we've been planning for a few scenarios depending on what the federal government does. There’s more work to be done, but we feel confident that patients will see a defined process in the next little bit, but this work cannot be fully developed until we have legislation to guide us.

“It’s time for the federal government to get its act in gear and give doctors and patients the clarity we need to fulfil the Supreme Court’s direction.”

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CONTACT: Aleisha Bosch, New Brunswick Medical Society, (506) 462 4633

Founded in 1867, the New Brunswick Medical Society is the professional association representing all physicians in New Brunswick. Its twin goals are to represent and serve physicians, and advocate for the health of New Brunswickers.