Bioethics Blogs

Pathways to a National Framework for the Regulation of Physician-assisted Dying

Jocelyn Downie suggests ways of creating a national framework for the regulation of physician assisted dying in Canada.


On February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada declared that the Criminal Code prohibitions on physician-assisted suicide and physician-provided voluntary euthanasia violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Not surprisingly, the Court promptly suspended the effect of this declaration for 12 months to give governments time to put systems in place to deal with the implications of the decision. Many people hope that, within those 12 months, a robust national framework for the regulation of physician-assisted dying will be put in place. Such a framework would ensure access to assisted dying, protect the vulnerable, and reconcile (patients’) right to life, liberty, and security of the person with (physicians’) freedom of conscience. A national framework for the regulation of physician-assisted dying is seen as desirable for a variety of reasons including: that it creates consistency regarding access and standards across the country; it allows for the collection, analysis, and sharing of comparable data; and it is more efficient than the implementation of 13 separate oversight bodies.

However, many are pessimistic about this hope being realized for at least two reasons: 1) the federal Conservative Government seems loathe to act; and 2) Canada has a complex system for the division of powers between the federal and provincial/territorial governments with respect to health and a rocky history of attempts to legislate and regulate on morally complex health matters (e.g., abortion and assisted human reproduction). So, a pressing question is whether any result is possible other than a vacuum (because nobody acts) or a patchwork quilt (because each of the provinces and territories goes their own way).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.