07/29/2015 11:21 EDT | Updated 07/29/2016 05:59 EDT

An Open Letter to Dr. Harvey Chochinov on Assisted Dying

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Social services nurse holding elderly woman's hand with care.

Dr. Harvey Chochinov

Chair, Committee on the Implementation of Physician Assisted Dying

July 29, 2015

Dear Dr. Chochinov,

We offer you our congratulations on your appointment on the federal advisory panel on assisted dying. This is a challenging role with a heavy responsibility, and the options you present will reverberate for all Canadians. Clearly we, as medical colleagues and members of Dying with Dignity Canada, will be paying particular attention to the proceedings and your resulting report.

As news of your appointment and details of the process you will follow have spread, it has become clear that you will face extraordinary challenges in providing alternatives that enable each citizen to realize their own individual desire regarding the manner of their own death. Some of these challenges will result from your own previously stated positions in regard to the issue of assisted death. Your positions have been well aired in the courts and in the world of social and mainstream media so the scrutiny you will face will be all the more focused, and the natural tendency of many will be to hunt for bias in your report.

It is possible you will even come to change your views on assisted dying, as have many of us on this council. We know positions on this issue can evolve. The CMA's own stand, from opposition, to neutrality, to leadership in the implementation of assisted dying, provides an excellent example.

It is clear from numerous surveys and from citizens' discourse that there is broad support in the populace for enabling assisted dying. Furthermore there is broad support for the notion that people should be allowed to decide for themselves what course they will each take in regard to assisted dying, and should be supported in their decisions. This is true both for the person who is dying, and for the potential providers.

With a moratorium during the election period, the timing of your consultation will be very tight. We urge you to overcome this restriction by using pre-existing resources. Review and build on the comprehensive work that has already been done by academics, politicians, physicians and judges on assisted dying. We refer specifically to the work of the Select Committee on Dying With Dignity from Quebec, the panel of the Royal Society of Canada on end-of-life decision making, the CMA report on end-of-life care and of course the judgments from both the B.C. and Canadian Supreme Courts.

Both you and Professor Frazee hold that people with disabilities and patients in palliative care are vulnerable. We encourage you to consider the other vulnerable population: people who are suffering terribly and seeking assistance to die. They too deserve your compassion and support.

We wish you collegial support in your work and, together with all individual Canadians, will be examining the proceedings and your resulting report. We also wish to offer our own help and input into your work.

Dr. Derryck H. Smith

Dr. W. David Robertson

Co-Chairs, Physicians Advisory Council, Dying With Dignity Canada


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