Urgent Need for Comprehensive Safeguards in Physician-Assisted Suicide

Posted in: NBACL News, Press Releases

Urgent Need for Comprehensive Safeguards in Physician-Assisted Suicide/ Voluntary Euthanasia to Respect and Protect Vulnerable Persons with Disabilities

Fredericton, NB – In 2016, health care in New Brunswick will undergo a major transformation as patients obtain the right to request and receive physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia in order to die. The New Brunswick Association for Community Living (NBACL) joins our national association the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) to call upon governments and health professions to urgently give much more attention to how vulnerable patients will be identified and protected in the system.

While NBACL shares the value of a health care system that promotes patient autonomy and dignity in end-of-life care, we are concerned that the recommendations proposed in the Final Report of the Provincial-Territorial Advisory Group, released December 14th, fail to recognize the growing vulnerability in Canadian society.

“There is compelling evidence from other jurisdictions that some people will be motivated to request physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia (PAS/VE) because of suffering caused or compounded by factors other than their medical condition,” states CACL President Joy Bacon of New Brunswick. “These include: the experience of disability itself; related social and economic disadvantage; victimization and domestic abuse; family and caregiver stress, inducement and coercion; social isolation and stigma; and barriers to health care access. Relying on existing mechanisms to make these distinctions, as proposed by the P-T Advisory Group, is completely inadequate to address the concerns the Supreme Court of Canada clearly identified.”

“We believe that any person who makes a request for physician assisted suicide must be considered as potentially vulnerable to being induced to commit suicide,” says NBACL Director of Social Policy, Ken Pike.

“As such, a carefully designed and monitored system of safeguards must be in place to protect people who may be vulnerable. The Supreme Court noted that such a system of safeguards was necessary and appropriate to reduce the risks of having a medical system that permits physicians to actively assist people to die,” says Pike.

“Only with a robust vulnerability assessment process, advance independent review, and clinical specialists who can guide the diagnosis of medical conditions and capacity for well-reasoned requests in the face of a person’s suffering, can we trust that the needed distinctions can be made to safeguard vulnerable persons,” says CACL Executive Vice-President Dr. Michael Bach.

NBACL is calling for governments to abide by the Supreme Court’s imperative that any safeguard system must balance the competing values of protecting the autonomy and dignity of a person’s right to choose on the one hand, and the need to protect vulnerable persons on the other. To do anything less would be to prioritize the value of autonomy over protecting the vulnerable, and the Supreme Court provided no such avenue in its decision.

“A weak safeguards system for vulnerable people – like that proposed by the P-T Advisory Group – risks disability-related psychological suffering becoming a primary motivation and justification for physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia,” states Bach.


NBACL is a charitable, non-profit organization, which supports children and adults with an intellectual disability and their families in communities throughout New Brunswick. Established in 1957, NBACL works to ensure that people with and intellectual disability have opportunities and supports to live, learn, work and contribute in every aspect of community life. Visit www.nbacl.nb.ca or call, toll free 1-866-622-2548 for more information.

Media contact:
Christy McLean
Manager of Communications, NBACL
Toll Free 1-866-622-2548

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