The Alzheimer Society of Canada has changed a key aspect of its stand on medical assistance in dying, saying it will no longer fight potential legal changes that would allow dementia patients to make advance requests for the procedure.
The Alzheimer Society, the country’s largest non-profit organization for people with dementia, used to be a strong opponent of advance consent for medial assistance in dying (MAID) on the grounds that it could put vulnerable people at risk. But last month, the organization’s board adopted a new position statement for the society that says: “We respect the right of all persons with dementia to advocate for their individual best interests, including advocating for access to MAID through advance requests.”
The new statement – which stops short of endorsing advance requests – reflects the heated debate among people with dementia and their caregivers about whether Canadian law should allow doctors to hasten the deaths of mentally incapable patients who wrote clear instructions when their minds were sound.
Right now, federal legislation does not permit advance requests. But that could soon change. An expert panel in Quebec, which has its own assisted-dying law, submitted a report to the provincial government earlier this year that recommends allowing advance requests in that province, French-language media have reported. (The final report has not yet been made public.)
At the federal level, the MAID law is a live election issue owing to a Quebec court decision last month that invalidated the part of the legislation that limited MAID to people whose deaths were “reasonably foreseeable.” The Conservatives have said they would appeal the Quebec court decision, while the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Greens have said they would rewrite the law instead, which could put advance requests back on the agenda.
If that happens, lawmakers will undoubtedly look for advice from the Alzheimer’s Society – an organization intimately familiar with the desires and needs of the 564,000 Canadians who have been diagnosed with dementia.
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