Convivium was a project of Cardus 2011‑2022, and is preserved here for archival purposes.
Open Wide and Say LawOpen Wide and Say Law

Open Wide and Say Law

Calgary physician Dr. Kiely Williams and Ottawa lawyer Faye Sonier show how the expansion of MAiD has given lawyers medical authority while silencing doctors who consider it very bad medicine.

Faye Sonier
Kiely Williams
2 minute read

When the Supreme Court decriminalized assisted suicide in 2015, many physicians lamented that lawyers could practice medicine in Canada without a license. Now that Parliament has radically expanded the scope of medical assistance in dying (MAID) via the over-reaching and ableist Bill C-7, we're bracing for the fall-out of politicians treading boldly where we physicians dared not go.

Psychiatrist Dr. Mark Sinyor noted that the bill, which extends MAID to those with disabilities and mental illness, was not based on scientific study. As the disability community passionately stated, repeatedly and to no avail, C-7’s impetus was the conclusion of healthy, able-bodied people that the lives of those with disabilities and disease weren’t worth living. When they and the UN Human Rights Council's rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities argued for better care, supports, and housing, they got physician-assisted suicide.

Dr. Sinyor showed that arguments for C-7 could be examined to see if MAID is the best treatment for those suffering various conditions. For example, the new legal concept of "intolerable suffering," foundational in the MAID legislation, hasn’t been scientifically studied or defined. How often could high-quality mental health care alleviate such suffering? There’s no research to consult.

Without scientific study, politicians decided that physicians would prescribe suicide, and that they would do so without evidence-based medicine to determine when and for which symptoms death is warranted, if ever. This, in a landscape where physicians must consider the implications of a stack of research before prescribing even simple antibiotics.

We’re concerned for new physicians who were taught about "standard of care" and "evidence-based medicine" but now practice in a life-or-death space devoid of both.

What politicians wouldn’t acknowledge is that they have fundamentally changed the doctor-patient relationship. It’s been thousands of years since physicians have purposely ended the lives of their patients. Since Hippocrates, if a patient died as a direct result of a physician’s actions, this was the ultimate failure in patient care. Now it is a “treatment” option. While rates of physician burnout and suicide are on the rise, this additional expectation which cuts against everything we believe is unconscionable.

When your physician advises you on a course of care, you should expect them to rely on their education, experience, and judgment. And you should expect it whether you have a questionable cough, a permanent disability, or Stage 4 cancer. For this reason, we support MP Kelly Block's Bill C-268 on intimidation of health care professionals, which makes it an offence to coerce a medical professional into providing MAID or to fire them for refusing to participate in the procedure.

Block's bill ensures that physicians can practice medicine in a way that considers the patient as an individual facing unique circumstances, and that these same physicians cannot be sanctioned for refusing to parrot federal law or hospital policy that cannot possibly account for all the factors involved in high-quality, patient-centered care.

When MAID was first introduced in Canada, doctors and patients were emphatically promised that there would be safeguards to prevent abuse. Five years later these safeguards are gone, despite pleas from the disability community, aboriginal leaders, and palliative care physicians. This is not medicine.

 It's obvious the prescribing politicians aren't doctors.

Convivium publishes texts that do not necessarily reflect the views held by Cardus, the Convivium team, or its editors. In the spirit of discussion, dialogue, and debate, we ask readers to bear in mind that publication does not equal endorsement. Thanks for reading. Join the conversation! 

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