Scrupulous Monitoring of Physician-Assisted Dying: The Case for Mandatory Reporting to Coroners and Medical Examiners of All Physician-Assisted Deaths in Canada

Juliet Guichon, Pauline Alakija, Christopher Doig, Jan Mitchell, Pascal Thibeault
Health Law in Canada 2016, 36 (3): 99-120
Although the practice of physician-assisted dying (hereinafter "PAD") will soon be lawful in Canada, opponents of PAD claim that it might result in involuntary deaths. The Supreme Court of Canada in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) rejected such arguments holding that involuntary deaths are preventable provided that jurisdictions devise stringent limits to the practice of PAD and that these stringent limits are "scrupulously monitored and enforced". This article examines the question of how best to engage in scrupulous monitoring of physician-assisted dying. At present, the province of Quebec has legislated, and three expert groups have proposed the creation of new administrative offices to monitor the practice of PAD (these groups are the Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying, the External Panel on Options for a Legislative Response to Carter v. Canada, and the Canadian Medical Association). This article argues that scrupulous monitoring can be better achieved by requiring explicit mandatory notification of all physician-assisted deaths to coroners and medical examiners, rather than by creating new administrative offices. It is more effective, efficient and prudent to use already existing coroner and medical examiner death reporting and investigative frameworks to report physician-assisted deaths than to create new, untried, parallel and potentially more expensive administrative offices. In Canada, almost all provincial and territorial statutes that govern the official actions of coroners and medical examiners currently require the reporting of non-natural deaths, which include those that will be attributable to PAD. To achieve the scrupulous monitoring of PAD required by the Supreme Court, provincial and territorial governments, in collaboration with the federal government, should. 1. review their coroner and fatality statutes to clarify that physician-assisted deaths (as non-natural deaths) are mandatorily notifiable; 2. encourage forensic pathologists to collaborate on a national basis to agree upon uniform methods of death reporting and monitoring of PAD; and. 3. mandate that coroner and medical examiners offices should be adequately funded and staffed for the new task (which is likely to increase only marginally the caseload in accurate death reporting and monitoring). Such actions will ensure the continued achievement of the legislative goals for coroner and medical examiner offices: to report deaths accurately and to investigate and monitor death for the purposes of protection, prosecution, prevention, health promotion and health planning. By ensuring that PAD is reportable to the statutorily created offices that are expert in accurate death reporting, the public may be better assured that the new practice of PAD is used only to relieve suffering as permitted by law.

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