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Alberta Won't Prosecute Doctor-Assisted Deaths

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ALBERTA LEGISLATURE
Fountain, AB Legislature, Edmonton, AB, Canada | Michael Wheatley via Getty Images
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EDMONTON — Alberta says it will not prosecute any physician or member of a health care team involved in a physician assisted death that falls within the scope of the Supreme Court of Canada's 2015 ruling on the issue.

The policy is spelled out in a directive from Alberta's Justice Department to police services in the province.

The directive says there is no reasonable likelihood of a conviction for charges under the Criminal Code for physicians or any other member of a health care team, including pharmacists.

"No prosecution will be commenced or continued against a physician (or a member of the health care team) that provides information regarding physician assisted death."

A link to the directive is posted on the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta website.

The directive says the provision for an assisted death must include the consent of a competent adult who has a grievous and irremedial medical condition that causes enduring intolerable suffering.

The province says the directive was drafted because Parliament did not replace legislation struck down by the Supreme Court by Monday's deadline.

No longer a crime

The directive says that means as of Monday, physician assisted death is no longer a crime under section 241 of the Criminal Code that deals with counselling or aiding suicide.

"No prosecution will be commenced or continued against a physician (or a member of the health care team) that provides information regarding physician assisted death, dispenses a drug, provides physician assisted death, or otherwise participates in a physician assisted death that falls within the parameters described by the Supreme Court of Canada in Carter 2015,'' reads the directive signed by Eric Tolppanen, assistant deputy minister of Alberta's Crown Prosecution Service.

The directive says all police are to contact Tolppanen before commencing an investigation if a complaint is made about a physician assisted death.

On Tuesday, organizations that regulate licensed practical nurses, registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses in Alberta posted a joint message to their members about the directive.

Directive will remain until legislation arrives

The nursing group says it has received a legal opinion that the directive provides an adequate level of protection for RNs, LPNs and RPNs involved with a physician assisted death.

The Alberta government directive says it will remain in effect until medical assistance in dying legislation comes into force.

Alberta Justice officials were not immediately available for comment.

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