Medical assistance in dying

Following a Supreme Court of Canada ruling, medical assistance in dying became legal on June 6, 2016.

Alberta Health’s goal is to provide access to physician-assisted death, while protecting vulnerable Albertans and respecting the rights of physicians and other health professionals.

We know that end-of-life care and medical assistance in dying are important, sensitive, and emotional issues. Patients have many decisions to make when faced with end-of-life care or intolerable suffering. The Government of Alberta wants to encourage Albertans to know and understand all the health care options available to them.

Common questions about medical assistance in dying

What is medical assistance in dying?

Medical assistance in dying occurs when a physician provides or administers medication that intentionally brings about the patient's death, at the request of the patient. For example, a physician directly administers a lethal dose of medication in accordance with the wishes of the patient. In accordance with the Supreme Court ruling, this procedure will only be available in limited circumstances.

Is medical assistance in dying legal?

Yes.  Medical assistance in dying is now legal in Canada.

In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that it will no longer be a criminal offence in Canada for physicians to help someone end their life in certain circumstances. The court gave provinces and territories until February 6, 2016, before its decision took effect, and then extended this date to June 6, 2016.

What is the role of the Alberta government compared to the federal government?

Health care is an area of shared jurisdiction by federal and provincial-territorial governments. The federal Parliament creates laws in relation to health care under its criminal law authority (for example, restricting controlled drugs, prohibiting or regulating certain practices). The federal government is therefore responsible for changes to the Criminal Code so that it aligns with the Supreme Court ruling.

The provinces and territories create health care laws about things like health insurance, the regulation of health professions, medical consent/decision-making, and hospitals. Alberta is therefore responsible for all of these matters as they apply to medical assistance in dying.

How does someone access medical assistance in dying?

Albertans can access information, resources, and have their questions answered through Alberta Health Services central care coordination service. The care coordination centre can provide information on all options for patients suffering intolerable or at end-of-life.

Albertans can call 811 and be connected directly with the navigation team.

Albertans can also initiate a discussion about medical assistance in dying with their family physician or specialist.

Physicians who are qualified and trained in medical assistance in dying can provide patients with all the information required to make informed choices about treatment, including diagnosis, prognosis and treatment options, and about medical assistance in dying.

Counseling patients on treatment options is part of the role of the physician; medical assistance in dying may be the right option for some, but there are many other options that need to be part of the conversation, including palliative care.

If a physician does not wish to participate in medical assistance in dying, a patient can contact Alberta Health Services care coordination centre through 811.

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