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Canada’s medical schools are preparing for what was once unimaginable – teaching medical students and residents how to help patients take their own lives.
As the nation moves toward legalized physician-assisted death, Canada’s 17 faculties of medicine have begun to consider how they will introduce assisted dying into the curriculum for the next generations of doctors. It is a profound change for medical educators, who have long taught future doctors that it is immoral to end a life intentionally.
“If legislation passes, and if it becomes a standard of practice in Canada for a small subset of patients who desire assisted death, and where all the conditions are met, would we want a cadre of doctors that are trained in the emotional, communicative and technical aspects of making those decisions, and assisting patients?” said Dr. Richard Reznick, dean of the faculty of health sciences at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. “We would.”
In its landmark, unanimous ruling in February that swept away Criminal Code prohibitions against doctorassisted death, the Supreme Court of Canada gave Parliament one year to craft a new law – should it choose to do so – that recognizes the right of consenting adults with a “grievous and irremediable” medical condition to seek a doctor’s help to end their lives.
Medical schools have begun to consider how they will adapt to a change in law, once it comes into force. When should classes on assisted-suicide and voluntary euthanasia be introduced? Would there be sufficient numbers of faculty members willing to teach the next generation of their trainees in the art and science of assisted death? Would young doctors wishing to incorporate it into their practices for consenting patients first have to demonstrate they are appropriately skilled?
“There will be many complexities to this – it’s not going to be a simple process – and whatever we teach our medical students will have to be congruent with the legal parameters, the professional guidelines that are developed and the way that this may be carried out in the future,” Dr. Reznick said in an interview.
He stressed that it would be unacceptable to force any medical student or resident to participate in a medical procedure that is nevertheless legal. “We have to be respectful of the first principle here, that this is a choice,” Dr. Reznick said. . . . .