Friday, December 16, 2016

Question answered in the Senate Health Medical Assistance in Dying—Independent Review Process


Medical Assistance in Dying—Independent Review Process

Hon. James S. Cowan: My question as well is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I gave his office notice this morning that I was going to ask about this issue.

It arises out of the bill that we passed in the spring dealing with medical assistance in dying. As a result of the work that was done here, the bill, now the act, contained a requirement for the government to initiate, not later than 180 days after the day on which the bill received Royal Assent, one or more independent reviews of issues relating to requests by mature minors for medical assistance in dying, to advance requests and to requests where mental illness is the sole underlying medical condition. Those reports are to be tabled in Parliament not later than two years after the day on which they are initiated.

Leader, your government the other day announced that they called upon the Council of Canadian Academies to conduct those reviews. The government news release said:
As part of the review process, the CCA will consider additional evidence from national and international experts, other levels of government, health care providers, and stakeholders impacted by the issues under review.
I will group my questions together, if I may. Will the CCA publicly identify the reviewers, the panellists who will be doing this? Will there be an opportunity for Canadians to make submissions to the panels in the course of their review, and will there be public hearings of these panels? I do have a supplementary that will arise out of that.

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): Before answering the specific questions posed by the honourable senator, I'd like to acknowledge that it is appropriate, for probably his last question posed in this chamber, to recognize the many questions that he has posed over the months that I have been here but also over a much longer period, and I think it is entirely appropriate that his last question be with respect to the implementation of Bill C-14, a bill on which his leadership was so outstanding to this chamber, both on the substantive side and on the procedural side, and which made us all proud of the work the Senate has done.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator Harder: With respect to the answer, I would acknowledge, as the question states, that the Council of Canadian Academies has been asked to conduct this review. The council is an appropriate body for this because of the manner in which it does its work. The objective of these reviews is to gather and analyze relevant information and evidence on the diverse perspectives and issues surrounding the requests for medical assistance in dying in the three study areas that have been identified.

There will be announcements reasonably soon by the academy itself on how it intends to conduct the review. It is the government's view that having an arm's-length agency in place to conduct this review is an appropriate mechanism, and allowing it to form its work plan commensurate with the time frame that has been provided is appropriate.

As you will know from the press release, the reports will focus on findings and will not include specific recommendations. This is the standard approach being taken by the Council of Canadian Academies, and it is the government's view that this important work will inform a broader public engagement and, indeed, potentially legislation, once the report has been concluded.

Senator Cowan: Thank you for that answer and for the compliment as well, leader. I think it's critically important, and I hope you would agree, that Canadians be given an opportunity to make submissions and that this not be a study conducted in private, with consultations taking place privately.

I would like your assurance that the government will press the CCA to ensure not only that the identity of the panellists is made public but that there will be an opportunity for ordinary Canadians to be heard.

That leads to my supplementary, which you anticipated. I was surprised to see that the backgrounder to the statement said that the reports will not provide recommendations but will summarize the findings of the reviews, leading to the kind of public discourse that you speak about.

I had hoped that there would be precise recommendations and that this would not be simply another study that would be received that would lead to more discussion. There has been a lot of discussion. I think Canadians are anticipating that the government will act, and I, and I think most people, expected that the panels would produce recommendations rather than summaries of hearings.

Senator Harder: I thank the honourable senator for his follow up questions. I can indicate that I'm informed that the CCA will consider additional evidence from national and international experts as well as other levels of government, health care providers and stakeholders involved in this, including Canadians at large. How they will do this is something the government awaits an announcement on from the CCA itself as they develop their work plan.

It is my information that the standard approach for the CCA's work is that it undertakes assessments and does not make recommendations, as such, but it does seek to identify the key issues and assess the evidence that it has before it and applies its expertise. The panel itself will be broadly representative of the stakeholder interests that are involved.
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