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.” 
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: https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/14637/index.do
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: firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject of “Physician Assisted Suicide in Canada.”