Bioethics Blogs

Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach

Jocelyn Downie reviews key points in the Report of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying.


On February 25, 2016, the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying delivered its Report to Parliament. This Report is worthy of admiration and its authors deserve our gratitude. The Report respects the incredibly strong public support that exists for decriminalization of assisted dying in general and for the positions on access, safeguards, and oversight. It respects the letter and the spirit of the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is grounded in the values underlying the public support for assisted dying and the judicial positions, and it has clearly benefitted from the wealth of information available from other jurisdictions.

The Committee largely succeeded in not dividing on partisan political lines (the main Report was supported by the liberal and conservative senators as well as the liberal and NDP members of parliament).

The Committee recognized the fact that much of the work that lies ahead in developing and implementing the regulatory framework for assisted dying requires the Government of Canada to work with the provinces and territories. This is mentioned in no less than 11 of the 21 recommendations. The Report calls loudly (and appropriately) for cooperation across the levels of government – federal, provincial and territorial.

Wheatfield with Crows, 1890 van Gogh. Painted during his last weeks.

The Committee situated assisted dying in the broader context of end-of-life care for all kinds of patients.

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.