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Alberta doctor receives award for role in developing medically assisted dying framework

Dr. Jim Silvius, based in Calgary, will receive the 2017 CMA's Dr. William Marsden Award in Medical Ethics.
Dr. Jim Silvius, based in Calgary, will receive the 2017 CMA's Dr. William Marsden Award in Medical Ethics. Courtesy, Alberta Health Services

An Alberta physician, who led the development of the province’s framework for medically assisted dying, will be awarded with one of the Canadian Medical Association’s (CMA’s) highest honours.

Dr. Jim Silvius, based in Calgary, will receive the 2017 CMA’s Dr. William Marsden Award in Medical Ethics, which is “presented to recognize a CMA member who has demonstrated exemplary leadership, commitment and dedication to the cause of advancing and promoting excellence in the field of medical ethics in Canada.”

READ MORE: Assisted-dying in Canada: What you need to know about the new law

Silvius played a key role in creating Alberta’s doctor-assisted dying framework following a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for the practice.

Silvius helped create a process that is now being replicated in other provinces.

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“I think part of the reason we were successful was that we took into account the diversity of opinion around the issue and ensured the rights of everybody would be protected by what we put in place,” Silvius said in a media release Wednesday.

“We tried to design a system for the entire province, not just Alberta Health Services, and one that works for everyone – including those who object to medical assistance in dying.”

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Silvius was nominated for the award by the Alberta Medical Association.

“There was a core group of about a dozen people who worked their hearts out on this,” Silvius said. “The credit is not mine alone – by a long shot.”

READ MORE: Alberta approves doctor-assisted dying framework as feds work on law

Legislation authorizing physician-assisted death in Canada came into force in 2016.

One of the key features of Alberta’s response to the new legislation was to create a single point of contact for patients, families and health-care providers through the Medical Assistance in Dying Care Coordination Service. Alberta was the first jurisdiction to create such a service, according to Alberta Health Services.

“The advent of medical assistance in dying is one of the biggest changes we’ve ever seen to medical practice in Canada,” said Dr. Verna Yiu, AHS president and CEO.

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“In overseeing this work, Jim handled an incredibly challenging assignment with great skill and diplomacy. He is most deserving of the accolade from the Canadian Medical Association.”

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READ MORE: Life, Death and the Law: Families making end-of-life decisions

Alberta was also the first province to publicly report data about medical assistance in dying every week. Since February 2016, AHS has provided medical assistance in dying to 143 patients.

“We thank (Dr. Silvius) for his sensitive and skillful leadership on this important issue that set the stage for medical assistance in dying in Alberta,” Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne said in a statement.

“As a result of his thoughtful work, other jurisdictions are looking to Alberta in their efforts to create a similar model.”

The 2017 CMA awards will be handed out in Quebec City in August.