The Supreme Court decision in Carter v. Canada (2015) has led to changes to the Canadian Criminal Code, such that physician-assisted death is now a legal option for consenting adult patients who have a ‘grievous and irremediable medical condition’ that causes ‘enduring’ and ‘intolerable’ suffering. In June 2016, Bill C-14 was enacted, allowing medical assistance in dying (MAID) for an eligible adult whose death is ‘reasonably foreseeable’. An independent report on the status of ‘mature minors’ (who are currently excluded under federal legislation), with focus on their potential eligibility for MAID, was required by the 2016 Act and is expected to be presented to Parliament by December 2018. Ensuring that newborns, children and youth receive the highest possible standard of care as they are dying is a privilege and a responsibility for physicians and allied professionals. Bringing a thoughtful, respectful and personal approach to every end-of-life situation is an essential and evolving duty of care, and the process should meet each patient’s (and family’s) unique social, cultural and spiritual needs. This statement describes the current Canadian legal and medical context of MAID and articulates a paediatric perspective that has emerged from—and been informed by—the broad, structured consultation process unfolding in Canada and elsewhere. Although ‘mature minors’ are the only youth currently mandated for further legislative consideration in Canada, the need to examine requests for and attitudes around MAID for minors of all ages remains compelling for two main reasons:
Canadian health care professionals are increasingly being approached by the parents of ‘never-competent’ infants and children, including those too young to make a reasoned decision, and by youth themselves, to discuss MAID-related issues. Results from a Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program (CPSP) survey, discussed below, indicate that parents raise such questions with paediatricians more often than do minors.
The discussion of MAID policy in Canada has been framed as much by the issue and context of suffering as by considerations of autonomy. While current legislation clearly prohibits MAID for incapable persons at the request of any other person, it is possible that parents may request MAID on behalf of their dying child.
Area of Research:
health care ethics and law
Investigator, CHEO Research Institute