Newspaper article The Canadian Press

MD-Assisted Dying Should Be Listed as Cause on Death Certificates: Law Professor

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

MD-Assisted Dying Should Be Listed as Cause on Death Certificates: Law Professor

Article excerpt

Should MD-aided dying be on death certificates?


TORONTO - Provincial and territorial death certificates should indicate when a patient's life was ended with the help of a doctor, says an analysis published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Jocelyn Downie, a professor of law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said most provinces and territories require that the immediate cause of death, as well as underlying and other causes, be stated on certificates.

In cases in which a doctor has agreed to a request to hasten death for a patient with a "grievous and irremediable" medical condition, assisted death should be included as one of the causes, Downie argues.

"I think that the disease that qualifies you for the physician-assisted death should be recorded as the underlying cause of the death and then the actual injection or ingestion (of lethal drugs) should be an antecedent (prior) cause and then the actual physical event should be the immediate cause of death," she said, referring to a patient's heart stopping.

The underlying cause of death needs to be recorded for national mortality data, she said. "It's really important that we keep track of how many people are dying of cancer or because of ALS or multiple sclerosis, so we can make our (resource) allocation decisions for research and health services appropriately.

"It all needs to be there on the death certificate -- both the disease that qualified you for the physician-assisted death and the fact of it being an assisted death because we don't want to lose track of either."

Downie and co-author Kacie Oliver write in the CMAJ that it's critical that a physician's role in a patient's demise be recorded so national statistics can be collected to ensure the procedure is being performed as intended under the Supreme Court of Canada ruling last February.

That ruling overturned the ban on physician-assisted death, either through a prescription for fatal medications which a patient takes themselves, or euthanasia by lethal injection administered by a doctor.

The high court stayed its decision for a year to give Parliament time to draft new legislation and regulations, which would make assisted death legal this February. …

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