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Saskatoon doctor worried about Supreme Court assisted suicide ruling

Watch above: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon and a local doctor have concerns over the recent Supreme Court ruling on assisted suicide.

SASKATOON –  One Saskatoon doctor is worried about the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling last week that opens the door to physician assisted suicide. Dr. Philip Fitzpatrick, a family doctor and ER physician, says it flies in the face of doctors’ commitment not to cause harm to patients.

“This is a bit of a red line because as physicians we’re not supposed to be partaking in anything that might harm our patients,” he told Global News. “Definitely for me participating in an assisted suicide would be harming my patient – even a referral for that would make me culpable for that.”

READ MORE: Supreme Court strikes down Canada’s assisted suicide laws

While the ban against physician assisted suicide will stay in place for a year, Fitzpatrick says colleagues he has spoken to have similar feelings.

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“Admittedly there is debate on life issues,” he said. “But once you look at this policy, once I’ve discussed it with my colleagues there is almost universal disagreement about this, this is definitely a bad idea for physicians, physicians need to be free to follow their consciences and to provide good patient care.”

Last Friday’s ruling says the person must be a competent adult who consents to ending their lives, and must have a grievous and irremediable medical condition. That could mean an illness, disease, or disability. And the medical condition must cause suffering that is intolerable to that person.

READ MORE: Doctor-assisted suicide: Key facts on the Supreme Court decision

Advocates of dying with dignity have welcomed the decision. But some worry the ruling is a slippery slope, especially for people with disabilities, the elderly, and those suffering from mental illness.

“I think all three of these groups could be pressured into these things,” said Mary Deutscher, with the justice and peace commission of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, “ and there’s really no amount of safeguards that could stop them from feeling that pressure.”

Dr. Fitzpatrick believes a better way is to help people thinking of ending their lives.

“I think the appropriate response when someone expresses such a desire is to help them,” he said. “As  physicians we eliminate suffering and I think with good palliative care we can alleviate a lot of concerns in patients.”

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READ MORE: The Supreme Court has lifted the ban on assisted suicide – what’s next?

He also points to the example of northern Europe, where assisted suicide has been extended to people with depression, and even children.

“I think as Canadians we have to ask ourselves, are those groups we are prepared to expose this to? I’m sure the answer is not,” he said.