CALGARY, August 21, 2013 ( – The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) discussed “physician-assisted dying” at its annual general meeting on Monday, saying the discussion came to “foster a public debate.” But the federal government declared on the same day that it will not reopen the topic. 

“Parliament voted in 2010 to not change its position on this issue,” Canada’s health minister Rona Ambrose told reporters after a speech to the CMA. “At this time, we don’t have any intention of changing our position.”


Of the three “strategic sessions” held at the CMA conference in Calgary, the one dealing with “end-of-life care issues related to palliative care, advance care planning and physician-assisted dying” had its own expert panel, which consisted of: 

  • Former Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs, a foremost euthanasia activist during her time in the senate;
  • Dr. Paul Boucher, an intensive care physician from Calgary and Co-Chair of the Patient-and-Family-Centered Care Committee tasked with improving  end-of-life care;
  • Dr. David Roy, a noted bioethicist from Quebec and champion in the field of hospice palliative care internationally recognized as a leader in the ethics of palliative care; and 
  • Dr. Eric Wasylenko, a family physician specializing in palliative care from Calgary.

While the panelists unanimously called for quality end-of-life care for all Canadians, Dr. Roy alone directly addressed the topic of doctors killing patients.

“Killing the pain is the point, not killing the patient,” he said.

After briefly sketching the evolution of the thinking behind doctor-assisted death in Canada, Dr. Roy presented a series of ethical questions on the matter.

Referring to Bill 52 in Quebec, which challenges Canadian law prohibiting euthanasia and assisted suicide, Roy asked: “Should the administration of death be considered a medical act?”

He said that physicians must ask if the administration of death is an “ethically justifiable extension of the medical mandate” or a “contradiction” of the care a doctor is bound to provide by the nature of his profession.

Asking to be excused for pushing what he called an irksome question even further, Dr. Roy said: “Should we socially and legally give this power to administer death-to-patients into the hands of physicians who are relatively inept at communicating with suffering and dying people?”


Finally he challenged his fellow doctors by asking: “If physician-assisted death were to be passed anywhere in Canada and to be performed, what sort of impact could we possibly imagine this would have on the care of very old, very fragile, and very deeply — or not so very deeply — demented people?”

Two recent surveys show that very few of the country’s doctors are willing to kill a patient by euthanasia if requested. CMA’s existing 2007 policy on the matter states that “Canadian physicians should not participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide”.

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But CMA’s incoming president Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti believes that the time is ripe for the association to revisit its stance against euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“What I’m sensing is that the thinking is evolving quite rapidly around this issue right now, and it may change,” he told Postmedia News in an interview a few days before the CMA meeting.

Francescutti said that society, not doctors, will lead the way to changes in the law that would legally allow doctors to kill their patients.

“I think what we’re seeing is that society is saying, ‘Enough of us are going through this and we want to have a frank discussion.’ The Canadian Medical Association is not shying away from this issue,” he said. 

Francescutti added that the more urgent issue is to improve the health of all Canadians “so that we can die healthier.”

Margaret Somerville took Francescutti to task in a piece appearing today in the National Postarguing that the CMA’s six-year-old policy forbidding doctors to participate in euthanasia is a “minuscule” timespan for a medical practice that “dates back nearly 2,500 years.”

The fifth century B.C. Hippocratic Oath forbids doctors from giving “deadly medicine to any one if asked” and from “suggest[ing] any such counsel.”

Somerville called Francescutti’s concept of dying healthy “puzzling”, adding that “if you are healthy, you don’t die.”

Resolutions passed by the general council on the issue of doctors administrating death to patients have not yet appeared on CMA website. 


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