CALGARY, August 22, 2013 ( – Canada’s “parliament of medicine” has decided that it will not change its formal position against euthanasia or assisted suicide, narrowly defeating a resolution that urged the federal government to conduct a large-scale public consultation regarding doctors killing patients as a medical act.


Instead, delegates at the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) annual general meeting in Calgary overwhelmingly passed a motion calling on the organization to “support the right of any physician to exercise conscientious objection when faced with a request for medical aid in dying”.

“I see the resolutions actually telling us that doctors were not willing to change the position of the CMA, and I think that’s good,” said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, to

CMA’s existing policy, adopted in 2007, states that “Canadian physicians should not participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide”.

CMA’s affirmation of its existing policy comes four months after the The World Medical Association reaffirmed its own declaration against euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, calling such practices “unethical” and “in conflict with basic ethical principles of medical practice”.

Dr. Will Johnston, chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of British Columbia, lauded the course taken by the CMA. “It's a basic principle of medicine that you shouldn't have to worry if a doctor or nurse will offer suicide to you or a loved one,” he told the Vancouver Sun.

CMA delegates also passed a resolution stating that “every person nearing the end of life who wishes to receive palliative care services at home should have access to them”.

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During an expert panel discussion at the meeting on end-of-life care, Dr. David Roy, a noted bioethicist from Quebec, directly addressed the topic of doctors killing patients.

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

Raising a series of ethical questions, Dr. Roy asked: “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?”

Schadenberg said that the mainstream media’s portrayal of the outcome of the doctor’s meeting is inaccurate. 

The Globe and Mail’s André Picard reported that CMA physicians “got bogged down in semantics” and that “fear prevailed”.

But Schadenberg called such characterization a “ploy by the other side” to belittle the fact that CMA is unwilling to change its existing policy.

“The point was that they were not willing to become pro-euthanasia,” he said.

Johnston said that the right-to-die movement is seeking to infiltrate the medical community to have it change its policy. “The other side is always trying to neutralize the medical opposition to euthanasia and they'll do anything they can do to get the CMA to compromise their clear stand against euthanasia.”

Despite the efforts of the right-to-die movement, two recent surveys show that the majority of the country’s doctors are not willing to kill a patient by euthanasia if requested.

Euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide has become relevant to doctors in Quebec with the province having recently introduced Bill 52 that would legalize euthanasia as “medical aid in dying”.

Schadenberg said it was interesting that the CMA confirmed a doctor’s right to “conscientious objection” when faced with a patient request for death in light of the fact that the country’s laws currently prohibit euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“There are some doctors who are worried that it might become legal. What the CMA has done is pass a motion on conscience rights in order to protect them if it were to become legal,” he said.

Schadenberg called conscience measures a “defensive mechanism” for the doctors who “do not ever want to kill their patients”.