Medical Assistance in Dying Task Force

On February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) held that the criminal laws prohibiting physician assistants in dying as unconstitutional. The federal government responded in the form of Bill C-14, which creates exemptions from criminal prosecution under the criminal code of Canada for persons seeking medical assistance in dying and physicians, nurse practitioners and other health care providers who provide care to them in accordance with the specific provisions of the law.

The availability of medical assistance in dying to eligible persons fundamentally changes our society and has an important impact on nursing practice. As the profession that most frequently bears witness to the beginning and end of life of our patients and with whom patients often feel most comfortable seeking information, clarification, or in sharing their thoughts and concerns, the voice of nurses was critically important in shaping the changes to the Criminal Code of Canada and the impact on patient care.

It is important that nurses understand the law and the legal limitations of their practice. It is equally important that nurses be supported in that practice. The Association, in partnership with the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Nurses Protective Society and other Manitoba nursing organizations is contributing to a National Nursing Framework on medical assistance in dying and other resources to support nurses in their practice. 

The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) influenced the discussion and specifically the transition from seeing this new patient right as physician assistant dying to the more accurate medical assistance in dying. This new term was intended to include nurses who provide care to patients through the lifespan and who may, in the course of professional practice and provincial standards, be in a position to provide information, respond to questions, be part of the care team receiving inquiries, requests or persons accessing medical assistance in dying. 

As the provincial member of CNA the Association is a member of a National Task Force creating a National Nursing Framework to guide ethical decision-making in relation to medical assistance in dying.  The framework provides guidance to nurses who may object on the basis of conscience to providing care involving medical assistance in dying as well as for those nurses who may provide information or care at some point or throughout the patient’s journey. The Association invited members to provide direct feedback on the draft document in August and September. We were very pleased that a number of members took advantage of this opportunity.

The Canadian Nurses Protective Society (CNPS) provided extensive feedback throughout the consultation period and influenced the wording in Bill C-14. The contribution of CNPS ensures that the exemption from criminal prosecution that Bill C-14 created is available to nurse practitioners and nurses provided their practice complies with the provisions in the Criminal Code of Canada.

The Association supported the submissions by CNPS during the consultation. We are very proud of the leadership and substantial contribution CNPS made to the new provisions of the Criminal Code as medical assistance in dying becomes available for eligible persons in Canada.

The Association is also a member of a provincial group of regulated nurses exploring the educational needs of nurses in relation to medical assistance in dying.

Specific guidance regarding nurse’s responsibilities is available from CNPS at www.cnps.ca and from the College of Registered Nurses at crnm.mb.ca.