Alberta government seeks public input on physician-assisted death

Assisted suicide
The Alberta government is seeking input on physician-assisted dying. AP Photo/Toby Talbot

The province is looking to the public to provide input as Alberta works to develop policies on physician-assisted death.

The government has formed an advisory committee on the controversial practice, consisting of Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne, NDP MLA Bob Turner and interim Liberal Leader David Swann.

The committee’s role will be to collect input from Albertans on a number of topics around physician-assisted death, including age eligibility, location and type of services, advanced directives and reflection period.

The province said it will also find out if Albertans think publicly-funded institutions should be able to opt out of whatever directives are implemented.

How should doctors help people die? Canada’s competing assisted-death guidelines, explained

The committee will speak with stakeholder groups, health care providers and advocates and members of the public.

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“This consultation will consider important and sensitive issues around how we can provide access to physician-assisted death, while protecting vulnerable Albertans and respecting the rights of physicians and other health professionals,” Payne said in a media release Monday.

“We need input not just from legal and medical experts, but also from patients, families and caregivers.”

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The input is being sought after Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that physician-assisted death will be a legal right in some cases as of June 6, 2016.

READ MORE: Right to die: Recommendations would make Canada’s assisted death among the world’s broadest

Alberta’s Catholic leaders came out earlier this month against legalizing physician-assisted death.

“We want to be clear that from the Catholic perspective, the intentional, wilful act of killing oneself or killing another human being is morally wrong,” Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said.

Smith said the most compassionate, just and ethical response is to support those who are suffering. He believes legalizing physician-assisted will place certain members of society at serious risk, including the elderly, those who suffer from mental illness or are disabled.

READ MORE: Alberta Catholic church stresses opposition to ‘morally wrong’ physician-assisted death

The province previously sought input on the practice in September 2015. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta approved an updated advice document in December following the public surveys. The college created the document in September, then asked for feedback from the public. A few hundred responses led to amendments to the draft, which include the sections on “competent adult patients” and the “period of reflection.”

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Alberta Health continues to work with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta and Alberta Health Services to decide how, when and where physician-assisted death will be provided.

Albertans are asked to weigh in on the policy through the province’s online survey by March 31.

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