Until recently, Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) had been prohibited in Canada under the Criminal Code. However, in the Carter v. Canada decision (February 6, 2015), the Supreme Court of Canada found that an absolute prohibition on MAID violated an individual’s legal rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter states that everyone in Canada has the legal right to “life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice”[i].
What some healthcare professionals want to know is – what about my rights? What if MAID conflicts with my moral beliefs and values? Well, many of the details are still being worked out but I think we can safely say that those who have a conscientious objection to MAID will not be forced to participate. The Carter decision dealt only with the physician’s role, but it even then it did not compel physicians to provide physician-assisted death if it went against their beliefs. It is altogether anticipated that the same will apply to all other health care professionals who could potentially be asked to assist in carrying out a patient’s wish to end their life.
When an RT disagrees with the patient’s plan of care, the current expectation is that they do not proceed; however, they must do so in a manner that respects the patient’s dignity and does not impede the individual’s access to optimal care. If all goes as planned, MAID will become another treatment option available to patients, and this will undoubtedly involve RTs as part of the team at times. And so the same principle almost certainly applies to MAID. If an RT objects on moral and/or religious grounds, s/he will be required to provide the necessary services until such time care can be transferred to an RT or another healthcare provider.
The federal and provincial governments have until June 6, 2016 to create laws related to MAID in Ontario. Many groups and individuals are offering opinions on this issue. Nonetheless, MAID is about to become a legal standard of care that patients will have a right to access – provided they meet the requisite criteria[ii]. Healthcare professionals have rights too. As we continue to move forward it is vitally important that that everyone’s rights are considered and respected.
[i] Constitution Act (1982). The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Part I. s.7. Retrieved from http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-15.html
[ii] House of Commons of Canada (2016, April). Bill C-14, Eligibility for medical assistance in dying, s 241.2 (1). Retrieved from http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/2803276/C-14-Medical-assistance-in-dying.pdf