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Little consensus on assisted suicide

CALGARY—The issue of doctor-assisted suicide generated plenty of debate but little consensus at the Canadian Medical Association’s annual convention yesterday.

“I do think that Canadians and Canadian physicians are actually quite deeply divided on this issue, and we certainly heard in our deliberations that there seemed to be many different viewpoints about how we should approach this,” CMA president Dr. Anna Reid said after a panel discussion on the issue.

“This is the reason we’re having the debate—society is leading the debate and we feel, as physicians, we need to actually start finding out what our members feel,” she added.

Federal Health minister Rona Ambrose, who spent the day at the convention, acknowledged doctor-assisted suicide is an emotional issue for many Canadians but said her government isn’t planning changes to laws that make euthanasia and assisted suicide illegal in Canada.

“You know all of us think about the issue because we have elderly grandparents and elderly parents, and I think it is on the mind of many because Quebec has introduced their legislation,” Ambrose noted.

“Parliament voted in 2010 to not change its position on this issue so, at this time, we don’t have any intention of changing our position,” she added.

The Quebec government plans to hold public hearings this fall on its controversial right-to-die legislation, which was tabled earlier this year.

The bill essentially outlines the conditions necessary for someone to get medical assistance to die.

The federal government said it will review Quebec’s legislation, setting the stage for a possible showdown between Ottawa and the province’s sovereigntist government.

Quebec argues that delivery of health-care services lies within provincial jurisdiction and maintains it is on firm legal ground with the bill—the first of its kind in Canada.

The president of the Quebec Medical Association was involved in yesterday’s debate, saying his province is ahead of the country on the issue.

“Medical aid in dying is a medical service that’s within the continuity of life care,” argued Dr. Laurent Marcox.

“It’s aimed at helping the patient die under strict conditions at the patient’s request.

“It’s not legalizing euthanasia for us—it’s something new,” he stressed.

“It’s a way to care for the patient at the end of his life.”

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