Ontario’s system for connecting patients who want an assisted death with co-operative doctors is failing the grievously ill and putting pressure on physicians who want no part of the new law, according to health-care providers on both sides of the euthanasia divide.
Ten months after medical aid in dying became legal, Canada’s most populous province still has no public co-ordinating service that would allow patients or their families to find physicians willing to perform assisted-death assessments and administer the lethal drugs.
Instead, Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is keeping a confidential roster of medical-aid-in-dying providers, but the names of those doctors are available only to other clinicians making referrals.
“I’ve had a couple of patients who made suicide attempts because they were concerned that they weren’t going to be referred and they couldn’t stand it anymore,” said Chantal Perrot, a Toronto family doctor who says about half of the patients she has seen for medical-aid-in-dying assessments could not get a timely referral.
“These people are frail, they’re terrified ... they are wanting to at least have an assessment for this procedure and [they’re] willing to take it into their own hands, or try to.”
Health Minister Eric Hoskins is promising to set up a co-ordinating service later this year, but in the meantime, doctors who object to referring patients for assisted death on moral grounds are taking their own regulatory college to court and asking the provincial government to insert a conscience protection clause into an assisted-dying bill that is working its way through the legislature.