Advocates for medical assistance in dying warn against Bill 207

A group that advocates for access to medical assistance in dying (MAID) says a recently introduced Alberta private member’s bill would obstruct access to the procedure.

“Bill 207 represents a grave threat to end-of-life rights in Alberta, and it must be stopped,” Bradley Peter, a board member with Dying with Dignity Canada, said in a statement Tuesday.

“People who request MAID are some of the most vulnerable, physically compromised patients in our public health care system. To deny them even the most basic information about MAID and a referral to a willing provider is akin to patient abandonment.”

Last week, UCP backbencher Dan Williams introduced the Conscience Rights (Health Care Providers) Protection Act.

It would let Alberta doctors refuse to advise or assist on procedures based on their personal or religious beliefs — such as abortions, contraception or medically assisted death — and would also drop the current obligation that they steer patients elsewhere for help.

Physicians already have the right to refuse to help a patient under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Meanwhile, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta directs doctors to offer patients timely access to another member or service that can, or offer information about a resource that will “provide accurate information about all available medical options.”

But Toronto-based Dying With Dignity Canada is concerned the legislation, Bill 207, would permit clinicians to not provide accurate information about MAID and how to access it.

“The proposed legislation would also forbid Alberta’s health care regulators from imposing rules that would require clinicians to ‘make statements to any person or body that would infringe the health care provider’s conscientious beliefs,'” the organization states.

“It raises the spectre that clinicians who oppose assisted dying could refuse to provide their patients with accurate information about MAID and how to access it.”

Williams’s bill passed first reading last week with a vote of 36 to 15; all UCP MLAs in attendance voted to pass it, while all Official Opposition NDP MLAs voted against it.

With the bill now before the legislature, it could be subject to further debate or moved to a committee where it would face more scrutiny. The private member’s bill still doesn’t have government backing.

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