It’s time to move beyond the drawn out “yes” or “no” arguments over doctor-assisted death and prepare for a future where sick patients would be granted the freedom to choose when and how they die, doctors who specialize in caring for the terminally ill argue in Canada’s leading medical journal. If the Supreme Court of Canada rules this year that laws banning doctor-hastened death violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, doctors could be left to operate in a “legal vacuum” the way they were when prohibitions against abortion were struck down, according to the commentary published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The debate “is about to become obsolete,” said Dr. James Downar, a critical care and palliative care physician at Toronto General Hospital.
“Physician-assisted death is going to become legal in Canada in the very near future by one means or another and crucial questions need to be answered,” he said, including when does suffering become “intolerable” and how long must it last before doctor-assisted death could be granted? Would psychological or “existential” angst be grounds for seeking a lethal injection? The commentary was co-authored by palliative care pioneer Dr. Lawrence Librach, who died last August, five months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “Larry and I spoke about this several times,” Dr. Downar told Postmedia News. “Like me, he was initially very concerned about legalizing PAD [physician-assisted death] and the effect this would have on palliative care.” More