Consequences of assisted-dying bill to be discussed

The federal government’s assisted-dying bill – Bill C-14 – cleared the final Senate hurdles this summer yet questions, confusion and concern still remain, said Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry Dean Michael Strong.

This is precisely why Schulich has partnered with the Faculty of Law in presenting a public forum to discuss the new legislation, as well as its broad implications for physicians, patients and Canadian society as a whole.

“This is a pretty important piece of what we have to do as physicians, and there’s a lot of mysticism that surrounds the legislation, its implementation, what it means – not only for physicians, but the whole health-care community and for patients,” Strong said.

Working with the Faculty of Law was important in preparing for a comprehensive discussion of Bill C-14, he added, and inviting members of the community was paramount. A sold-out multidisciplinary panel discussion will take place Friday at the Central Branch of the London Public Library, aiming to address the ethical, legal and health-care outcomes of the new law.

“This is a fundamental act. What’s been lost in all this is, for all the academic arguments, this is still a practical skill – this is something you are trained to do or not do, as the choice may be,” Strong said.

“Individuals seem to think this is something we can just turn on and off with a switch, that as a physician, you can go in and end somebody’s life, and it doesn’t have really significant consequences both legally, as well as for an individual, for that family. That discussion needs to be had. It’s not just about us as physicians and medical educators. It’s a much broader discussion,” he continued.

Physicians are tasked with delivering a span of care from birth to death, Strong explained. And there are features – such as assisted dying – that play a significant role in end-of life and palliative care. Many don’t consider this aspect of medicine and how physicians care for people at the end of their lives, he noted.

And that is just one piece of the assisted-dying conversation that has been missing so far, Strong said.

“Think of it as another tool. When I give talks on it, I tell individuals, as a neurologist, when somebody comes into the emergency room with a massive stroke, I’m going to try and get rid of the clot that is in place. I have a tool – a kit that allows me to move forward with that,” he explained.

“It’s a skillset. (Assisted dying) is yet another, very defined skillset that not everybody is going to be doing. And this is more than a conscientious objection if you don’t want to do it. There are some very specific legal issues here with regards to consent,” Strong said.

To enrich the discussion and address all nuances surrounding assisted dying in Canada, panelists for Friday’s event have been drawn from a broad range in the community and include medical, legal and spiritual leaders.

The two-part event will begin with a lecture from Western alumnus Dr. Jeff Blackmer, Vice-President of Medical Professionalism for the Canadian Medical Association, who is leading the way through the assisted-dying legislation. The panel will participate in a moderated discussion led by Carly Weeks, health journalist with The Globe and Mail.

“Canadian culture is a mosaic and this isn’t one size fits all. What does this mean for somebody within their own personal and ethical framework? Everybody brings what they are to the table. To have a really robust panel like this and then to invite the community in is important,” Strong said.

“For us as a university, to me, this is what we should be doing. This is engaging our community. We have the content and the knowledge experts here, so we need to get outside our walls and have a conversation. This touches as close as you can get to the heart of the matter.”