Deacon Larry Worthen, executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada (CMDS), worries that Ontario's care co-ordination service will be too focused on assisted suicide. Photo by Michael Swan

Focus on life, not suicide, Christian Medical and Dental Society warns

  • May 5, 2017

Ontario will have a one-stop-shop service for people weighing their end-of-life options — palliative care, hospice care, home care or assisted suicide — up and running by June 1, a government spokesperson has told The Catholic Register.

However, Deacon Larry Worthen, executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada (CMDS), worries that the care co-ordination service will be too focused on the assisted suicide option, which allows patients to self-refer for assisted suicide or allow their families and friends to refer if they can’t find a doctor willing to refer for an assessment.

While the Ministry of Health is pouring energy and resources into ensuring everyone who wants a medically assisted death can be quickly assessed and matched with a willing doctor, patients who want to die in a hospice, at home or in palliative care in a hospital may discover their preferred option either isn’t available or only available through a waiting list, Worthen said.

“There will not be funding for alternative options for people who are in need so they can make a real choice between ending their lives prematurely and carrying on,” said Worthen. The CMDS is suing the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to overturn a college policy which would force objecting doctors to make an “effective referral” for “medical assistance in dying (MAID)” assessments.

“We could have people choosing medical assistance in dying just simply because society has failed them,” Worthen said. “We need to ensure that there’s palliative care throughout the province of Ontario, to start. There also needs to be significant supports for people with mental health issues and disabilities, so that they feel that they are welcome members of our society and not people who are a burden on society.”

A functioning care co-ordination service also doesn’t lessen the need to legally protect the conscience rights of doctors and nurses who for religious or moral reasons refuse to refer for assisted death, Ontario opposition health critic Jeff Yurek said.

Yurek will table a private member’s bill dealing with conscience rights protection for health care professionals on May 18.

“At this point in time, health care professionals still will be penalized or disciplined for acting on their own religious or moral beliefs. Canada as a country needs to ensure that individuals are protected,” Yurek said.

A private member’s bill would need significant support from the majority Liberals to get past first reading, but Yurek believes government backbenchers are on his side.

“I think there’s a lot of Liberal MPP backbenchers who are struggling with not supporting conscience protection,” Yurek said. “Cabinet and the premier’s office is forceful, but a private member’s bill is time for them to stand up for their constituents and at least support this through second reading and into committee.”

With a 2016 budget commitment to investing $75 million over three years to improve access to palliative care, the provincial government is doing what it can to make sure “people have access to a range of end-of-life options, including services like palliative and hospice care,” Ministry of Health and Long Term Care spokesperson Laura Gallant said in an email to The Catholic Register.

The province’s palliative care spending includes a commitment to support creation of up to 20 new hospices by 2019.

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