Doctors in Nova Scotia are examining the implications of a Supreme Court ruling striking down a ban on doctor-assisted suicide.
On Friday, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia held a panel discussion in Halifax looking at the “moral and professional implications” of the ruling as part of their annual general meeting.
Dr. Gus Grant, the college’s CEO and registrar, says now is not the time to debate where the Supreme Court of Canada was right — now is the time to act.
“We have our marching orders from the highest court in the land,” Dr. Grant said.
This past February, the court struck down the ban on doctor-assisted dying for mentally competent patients with terminal illnesses, giving Parliament and the provinces a year to draft legislation.
“Come February of next year there will be patients in Nova Scotia who may seek to exercise this right and they can't be left in the lurch,” Dr. Grant said.
He says the college is committed to getting a process in place, and it doesn’t have the luxury of waiting.
“There's clinical practice guidelines, how does a physician actually do this? Then there will be legal thresholds that will have to be met,” he said.
“It’s a big challenge for the country.”
Sheila Sperry is keenly watching how the country rises to that challenge.
She has been with the Nova Scotia chapter of Dying with Dignity since her husband died three years ago.
Instead of having to be deemed mentally competent at the time, she says she wants the new legislation to allow people to plan in the event of illness.
“Which allows people to write down, just the way you would your will, at a time that your physician can say that you are mentally competent, to write down your wishes,” Sperry said.
And just as patients have a choice, doctors must have a choice, she said.
“The directive says that doctors have a choice, but it doesn't say anything about them having a duty to refer,” she said.
That could be as simple as providing the patient a list of doctors who are willing to assist, she said, and it’s another thing she’d like to see included in the coming legislation.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Jacqueline Foster