Bioethics Blogs

Physician-assisted death needs expert reporting and monitoring

Juliet Guichon and Pauline Alakija argue that governments should require that physician-assisted deaths be reportable to (and by) coroners and medical examiners, so that scrupulous monitoring of physician-assisted death may occur.

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When the Supreme of Court of Canada extended the suspension of its declaration of invalidity regarding physician-assisted death, it granted people the right to apply to a superior court for a declaration that they were eligible for physician-assisted death.  So far, four persons have successfully applied: a Calgary woman with advanced ALS, a patient with an undisclosed illness in Winnipeg, an 80-year old Toronto man with advanced lymphoma, and a B.C. woman with multiple sclerosis.

Surprisingly, the courts did not state that the coroner or medical examiner had jurisdiction to oversee physician-assisted death. In two of the cases, the courts authorized the physicians who offered assistance in dying to complete the medical certificate of death, and held that the physicians should misstate the cause of death.  Even though drug toxicity was the cause, the courts ordered or authorized the physicians to record that the Calgary woman died of ALS and the Toronto man died of lymphoma.

If this practice continues, then the official records will show that physician-assisted death does not occur in Canada.

Not only do such judicial orders undermine the important work conducted by coroners and medical examiners in accurate death recording and reporting, they prevent expert death monitoring.   This result is inconsistent with the 2015 Carter decision, because it undermines scrupulous monitoring of physician-assisted death.

In that decision, the Supreme Court of Canada held that the right of physician-assisted death is not absolute.

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.