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Can I get medical assistance to die in Canada?

On June 17, 2016, the Medical Assistance in Dying law received royal assent in Canada, meaning it became law.

The new law allows medical and nurse practitioners to provide medical assistance to those who request it and also allows pharmacists and certain other persons to assist in the process. Medical practitioner in the context of this law means a person who has the right to practice medicine under the laws of a province.

The act also sets out that those professionals allowed to aid in assisted dying have to comply with safeguards set out in the act and any other rules created by the minister of health of each individual province or territory.

It’s important to note that not every person in Canada has the right to receive medical assistance to die. There are very strict rules as to who is eligible. However, rules can change from one government to the next. For the most up-to-date information on medical assistance in dying consult the current legislation.

Who is eligible to receive medical assistance to die?

The new law sets out very specific criteria as to who is allowed to get this treatment.

The person asking for this service must meet all of the following criteria:

  • The person must have a have a grievous and irremediable medical condition;
  • The person has to be eligible for health services funded by the federal government, or a province or territory;
    • As a rule, visitors to Canada are not eligible for medical assistance in dying;
  • Must be of legal age, at least 18 years old;
  • Must be mentally competent – the person has to be able to make health care decisions for him or herself;
  • The request for medical assistance in dying cannot be made by the person requesting the services if it is made due to outside pressure or influence, and;
  • The person must give informed consent to receive medical assistance in dying. In other words, you have consented to medical assistance in dying after being given all of the information needed to make your decision. This includes information about:
    • Your medical diagnosis;
    • Available forms of treatment;
    • Available options to relieve suffering, including palliative care.

What is a grievous and irremediable medical condition?

A person must meet all of these criteria:

  • You must have a serious illness, disease or disability;
  • You must be in an advanced state of decline that cannot be reversed;
  • You must be suffering unbearably from your illness, disease, disability or state of decline; and,
  • You must be at a point where your natural death has become reasonably foreseeable, which takes into account all of your medical circumstances.

What kind of medical assistance in dying is available in Canada?

There are two ways the service can be carried out:

  • For a legally accepted professional to directly administer a substance that causes death, such as an injection of a drug
    • this is also known as voluntary euthanasia;
  • For a legally accepted professional to give or prescribe a drug that is self-administered to cause death
    • this is also known as medically-assisted suicide

How do I request this service?

The first step is to talk to a health care provider about your wish to receive medical assistance in dying. Be aware that the legislation does not force a medical or nurse practitioner to have to help you with this service, but they may be able to point you to health care providers who will.

After you have found a health care practitioner who provides the service, you will have to follow the process for eligibility determination which includes a physician or nurse practitioner making a determination if you even qualify for this service.

If you want to request the service or talk to someone about the service talk to your health care practitioner. If you have been rejected from receiving the service you may want to consult a lawyer.

Read more:

Medical Assistance in Dying

An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying)