Bioethics Blogs

In a Nutshell II: Ontario Court Decision & MAiD

Jocelyn Downie describes the recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision in A.B. v. The Attorney General of Canada and the Attorney General for Ontario, which provides an interpretation of “reasonably foreseeable natural death” within the Canadian federal legislation on medical assistance in dying (MAiD).

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On June 17, 2016, new Canadian federal legislation on medical assistance in dying (MAiD) came into effect. The legislation was the government’s response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Carter v. Canada striking down the Canadian Criminal Code prohibitions on medical assistance in dying. The legislation established eligibility criteria for access to medical assistance in dying (e.g., competent adult) as well as procedural safeguards (e.g., a ten day waiting period between the initial request for medical assistance in dying and the provision).

On June 19, 2017, almost a year to the day after the legislation came into effect, a judge in Ontario issued the first decision to provide an interpretation of one of the most confusing and controversial elements of that legislation.

The Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying) establishes that individuals are only allowed access to medical assistance in dying if, among other things, “their natural death has become reasonably foreseeable, taking into account all of their medical circumstances, without a prognosis necessarily having been made as to the specific length of time that they have remaining.” (s.241.2(2)(d)) But what does it mean to say that a natural death is “reasonably foreseeable”?  Does this mean, as various government statements and documents have suggested, that the person is on “an identifiable path” to natural death or that the person’s natural death is “not too remote” or is “in the not too distant future”?  Does this mean that person is not expected to live more than 6 or 12 months?  Or, could someone who is experiencing enduring and intolerable suffering from a fatal condition that will not kill them in for many years be eligible for medical assistance in dying?  What about a non-fatal, advanced and incurable chronic condition or disability?

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.