The Special Joint Committee’s Report to the House of Commons and the Senate on Medical Assistance in Death Includes Recommendations That Will Protect Nurses


The Special Joint Committee’s Report to the House of Commons and the Senate on Medical Assistance in Death Includes Recommendations That Will Protect Nurses

March 1, 2016

The CNPS made written submissions to the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying in order to bring to the attention of parliamentarians the important role of nurses in the provision of end-of-life care, as well as important legal implications of the Carter decision for nurses. The CNPS’ submissions were developed in consultation with its member organizations, and were supported by nursing associations and other stakeholders.  

On February 25, 2016, the Special Joint Committee tabled its report in the Senate and presented it in the House of Commons. The report contains 21 recommendations, within which are embedded the issues the CNPS raised in order to protect nurses and other health professionals from unnecessary legal risk:

  • Ensuring that providing information or advice on assisted death and providing or aiding in the provision of assisted death do not constitute criminal offences under the Criminal Code

  • Protecting from the risk of criminal prosecution all health professionals involved in assisted death, including any nurse who may administer medical assistance in dying or provide care alongside another professional authorized to administer medical assistance in dying
  • Deferring to the regulatory expertise of provincial and territorial governments, health profession regulatory bodies, and professional associations rather than only enacting federal legislation on physician-assisted death

Significantly, the Special Joint Committee recommended the use of the term “medical assistance in dying” (MAID) rather than “physician-assisted death” (the term used by the Supreme Court of Canada) in any future legislation on this issue, to reflect the reality that the process of assisted dying will involve teams consisting of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care professionals.

In keeping with this, the Special Joint Committee also accepted the CNPS’ recommendation that nurses be expressly exempted from the application of the Criminal Code provision prohibiting assisted suicide. It was incorporated in Recommendation 13 of the Report, which follows:

RECOMMENDATION 13

That physicians, nurse practitioners and registered nurses working under the direction of a physician to provide medical assistance in dying be exempted from sections 14 and section 241(b) of the Criminal Code.

Pharmacists and other health care practitioners who provide services relating to medical assistance in dying, should also be exempted from sections 14 and section 241(b) of the Criminal Code.

Along with that recommendation, the Special Joint Committee expressly cited the CNPS recommendation that nurses and other health care professionals also be exempt from the application of the Criminal Code provision making it an offense to “counsel” an individual to commit suicide.

Lastly, seven of the 21 recommendations support the federal government working with the provinces and territories and their health regulatory bodies on various aspects of medical assistance in dying practice and procedure. 

The federal government is working on its legislative response to medical assistance in dying. The CNPS will keep you informed of developments, especially as June 6, 2016 nears. If there is no new or amended federal legislation by that date, the elements within the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on Carter, 2015 SCC 5 will prevail.