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Physician-assisted death debated in Alberta legislature

The Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, Alberta. August 1, 2015.
The Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, Alberta. August 1, 2015. Karen Bartko, Global News

Debate got underway in the Alberta legislature Tuesday over how to regulate medically-assisted dying in the province as the Supreme Court’s June 6 deadline on the controversial matter quickly nears.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Notley government released its draft regulations on the issue in order to regulate the medical service until federal legislation on the matter is passed.

“The federal government has the primary responsibility for legislation in this area, and we intended for our regulations to fit within their legislative framework,” associate health minister Brandy Payne said Tuesday. “In the meantime, Alberta needs to be prepared.”

READ MORE: Alberta government introduces motion on physician-assisted death

The NDP said the motion, first introduced Monday, was being debated at the request of opposition members in the legislature but members of the opposition Wildrose party said the discussion was being rushed.

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“This shortened timeline imposed by the NDP government is simply unacceptable,” Drew Barnes, shadow health critic, said in a news release. “Less than an hour is not nearly enough time for any Member to prepare for the constructive and helpful debate that we would like to see on this motion, and that Albertans expect from their representatives.”

The proposed rules adhere to 2015’s landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling on the matter, and unlike the federal Liberals’ Bill C-14, do not allude to someone needing to prove they have a terminal illness to be eligible for the service.

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

The Notley government’s proposed regulations stipulate anyone who wants medical assistance to die must be at least 18 years old and have a “grievous and irremediable medical condition.” The patient has to be mentally capable of making a decision on their own health, issue the request voluntarily and give informed consent to have it carried out.

The rules would allow doctors to refuse to help provide the service out of conscience considerations, but they would still be obligated to ensure the patient is able to access the service itself through Alberta Health Services, the body which will also need to approve the drug used to end a patient’s life.

The proposed regulations do not mention a mandated period of reflection between when a patient makes the request for assisted death and the procedure is carried out.

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The Liberals’ proposed regulations under Bill C-14, passed third reading in the House of Commons Tuesday and will now be put forth to the Senate. Some senators have said amendments to the bill will be debated and that it is not likely to pass before the June 6 deadline.

READ MORE: Assisted dying bill passed by MPs, moves to Senate

If approved by Alberta’s cabinet, the province’s draft regulations for physician-assisted death would take effect until federal legislation on the matter passes. At that point, the Alberta regulations will be repealed as the federal legislation would supersede it because it falls under the Criminal Code.

-With files from the Canadian Press