Supreme Court of Canada rules that Canadians have the right to physician assisted suicide: What does that mean for OTs?

On February 6th, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) announced their unanimous decision on Carter et al.  v. Canada (the legal challenge for the right to die). The justices wrote:

“We conclude that the prohibition on physician-assisted dying is void insofar as it deprives a competent adult of such assistance where (1) the person affected clearly consents to the termination of life; and (2) the person has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.  We therefore allow the appeal.” [4]

The SCC allowed the government of Canada 12 months to respond to this ruling. They are tasked to develop laws and policies reflecting this ruling, that serve to protect eligible patients and their physicians from legal consequences of assisted suicide, and to mitigate risks for any identified vulnerable persons.

Read the SCC decision here:

So what does this mean for Occupational Therapists in Canada?

In short, this means that within 12 months occupational therapists and other health care professionals, not just physicians, may be involved in the end-of-life care of an individual who would like to request, has requested, or who will receive a physician assisted death or euthanasia.

It will be up to Parliament and health policy makers to define the following:

  • What does consent look like in this situation?
  • What does competency look like in this situation, and how it is determined?
  • What does “enduring and intolerable suffering” mean for people suffering a grievous and irremediable medical condition due to illness, disease, or disability?

CAOT is committed to supporting and advancing Occupational Therapy practice.

CAOT recognizes that this is an important issue to occupational therapists in Canada and is committed to supporting all members of the profession. CAOT is actively engaged in monitoring government and legal policies that impact care provision, including end-of-life care and physician assisted suicide. CAOT is also committed to providing and encouraging leadership within the profession.

CAOT would like your input regarding this ruling permitting physician assisted suicide. Please send your comments, questions, concerns and insights regarding the near-future role of occupational therapy in end-of-life care/physician assisted dying to the Director of Professional Practice at: with the subject of “Physician Assisted Suicide in Canada.”


Resources and support

Everyone who has any connection with someone with dementia or dementia work, knows that having access to resources is vital. It is often said that ‘knowledge is power’. If that is true, then each of us should be looking to increase our knowledge as we fight our battles against the progressive decline of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada is here to help. Alzheimer Society staff are constantly reaching out to persons with dementia, their families, carers and the health professionals who work with them, in an effort to update and build on their existing publications. Their fact sheets and brochures, always available in English and French, can be an extremely important way to learn about the illness, to find one’s way, or support others. The following links may be of interest:



Sharing Dance

February is Heart Health month here in Canada.  Physical activity is a great way to reduce your risk of heart disease as well as your risk of developing dementia.

Dance is an activity that is both physically and cognitively challenging, making it a great choice to help lower your risk of developing dementia.

The National Ballet of Canada is hoping to encourage individuals of all ages to try dance through their ‘Sharing Dance’ program.  The National Ballet posts a dance routine on their website each year in January along with rehearsal footage and variations on the routine to suit different physical abilities.

The idea is for groups to get together and learn the routine for Sharing Dance Day in May.

Check out the Website below to start dancing!

“Still Alice”

I loved the book by Lisa Genova, so I was concerned the movie wouldn’t do the book justice, but I am happy to say it does.

Spoiler Alert 🙂

It tells the story of Alice, a 50 year old linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  It painfully displays the rapid progression of the disease and how it unfolds in her life.  It brings to life the symptoms that we so commonly discuss: word finding difficulties, getting lost in familiar environments, difficulty recalling recent or scheduled events, misplacing common objects etc.  We see Alice’s coping strategies; the sticky notes, the highlighter, the blackberry list of questions, the word games and tests and the humour to deflect from the things she just can’t remember. We can all relate to Alice; she is a colleague, a friend, a mother, a wife.

Many things struck me about this movie.  In particular, the progression of the disease is largely displayed by Alice’s facial expressions and shifts in her tone of voice; you feel her anxiety when she becomes disoriented while jogging, her embarrassment when she can’t find the bathroom and her sadness at her husband’s inability to discuss the future or live in the present.  She provides an unforgettable glimpse into the lived experience of Alzheimer’s when she eloquently presents at an Alzheimer’s conference.  You also see what we are told remains when the disease progresses; the importance of non-verbal communication, connection and love.

This movie got me thinking about many things:

-the ethical complexities of the genetic nature of early onset Alzheimer’s disease, to test or not to test?

-the challenges of family dynamics in coping with the disease (Alice’s family members have wildly varied responses to her illness)

-the importance of planning for future care in the early stage of the disease when you are able to participate and direct

– caregiver burden and burnout

– the financial costs of care, Alice is financially secure, how do people manage without such an income?

I would love to hear what other people thought of the film…….here’s the trailer if you haven’t already seen it……