by Penelope Graham
A bill to legalize physician-assisted dying has been voted through by Members of Parliament at 186 to 137, and is now on its way to the Senate for approval prior to a June 6th
deadline. Bill C-14, which was tabled in April, will lift a ban on assisted dying, following a 16-month Supreme Court-imposed deadline for final legislation. In February 2015, the court ruled an existing ban on the practice was unconstitutional and in violation of patients’ rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In April, life insurers stated that they would back such legislation, waiving the standard two-year exemption period for suicides.
Frank Zinatelli, vice president and general counsel at the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association
, says anyone who goes through the process as mandated by legislation for physician-assisted death would not be affected by the suicide clause and beneficiaries would receive policy payouts.
“If a person goes through those processes, that is the will of society that they be allowed to do this, and consequently, we wouldn’t stand in the way,” he says in an interview with Life Health Professional
. “It’s something that we have stated – this is the industry position – we have been speaking with the provincial governments to ensure that’s reflected.”
He adds that while there won’t be much of an impact on how life insurers provide coverage, or underwrite those with existing illnesses, he foresees it will be increasingly important that death certificates include a comprehensive cause of death.
“It will be important what appears on the death certificate of a person, in that instance, there will probably be valid reasons for governments to want that, if it was a physician-assisted death, for statistical purposes,” he says. “It will also be important to indicate underlying cause of the death.”
The immediate future of Bill C-14 is still unclear, as the current iteration has been contested by advocates of assisted dying and members of the Senate. The existing legislation would restrict the option of physician-related death only to mentally competent adults with serious or incurable illnesses, diseases, or those who are “suffering intolerably”. Their death must also be “reasonably foreseeable” – a clause critics say leaves too much of a grey area for physicians to act with certainty.
Critics have called for the June 6 deadline to be disregarded, urging government to develop a more comprehensive bill rather than rush the existing to legislation. However, Health Minister Jane Philpott insists timely legalization is crucial. “Without legislation in place, health-care providers will not have the legal framework that they require to proceed," Philpott told MPs Monday.
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