News Release

Physician-Assisted Death: College Approves Interim Guidance

Jan 26, 2016

The Council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario today approved its Interim Guidance on Physician-Assisted Death. This guidance was developed to ensure that Ontario physicians are aware of their obligations and the College’s expectations when physician-assisted death becomes legal.

“While the Supreme Court of Canada has given the federal government a four-month extension on the deadline to pass legislation on physician-assisted death, we believe this guidance needs to be in place as patients will have the option over this period to apply to a judge for an exception to the current law,” said College President Dr. Joel Kirsh. “The public and the profession can be confident that we have given careful consideration to this important issue, listened to their feedback and provided guidance that is well-informed and balanced.”

The draft document underwent an abbreviated consultation to meet the Supreme Court’s February 6th  deadline. Considerable feedback was received and is reflected in the final document and Sample Process Map. For instance, the Sample Process Map clarifies that conscientious objectors are not required to assess whether the patient meets the criteria for physician-assisted death prior to making an effective referral. Key changes were also made to the recommended waiting period between a first and second request for physician-assisted death. The recommended 15 day period was removed, to allow physicians and patients to adhere to a reflection period that is suitable in the circumstances of each case.  

Key elements of the Interim Guidance document include:

  • Professional and legal obligations articulated in College policies and legislation that apply in the physician-assisted death context;
  • The criteria for physician-assisted death as set out by the Supreme Court of Canada;
  • Guidance for physicians on practice-related elements specific to the provision of physician-assisted death, as set out in a Sample Process Map; and,
  • Consistent with the Professional Obligations and Human Rights policy, physicians do not have to provide services that conflict with their conscience or religious beliefs. Where a physician declines to provide physician-assisted death for reasons of conscience or religion, he or she must make an effective referral in a timely manner to a non-objecting physician or agency.

Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care commended the College’s initiative. “As a government, we have committed to working closely with our partners to develop an approach to physician-assisted dying that is right for Ontario” he said. “I would like to thank the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) for the leadership they’ve shown on this important issue and for developing Interim Guidance on Physician-Assisted Death. We will continue to work with the CPSO, the federal government, our provincial and territorial colleagues and with Ontarians as ‎we develop a long-term plan on this matter for Ontario,” said Dr. Hoskins.

The Interim Guidance document will be available on the CPSO website. Links to additional external resources will also be included as they become available.