BC Nurse Suspended for Helping Patient Find Information about Medical Assistance in Dying

crnbcNurses are reminded to be cautious when discussing or providing information about medical assistance in dying (MAID) after a home care nurse in British Columbia was recently suspended for helping her patient research MAID. The nurse was suspended by her employer, a health authority, rather than her governing body.

The Vancouver Sun reported that the nurse’s suspension arose after a palliative care doctor refused to give a patient information on MAID and told her to contact a lawyer. After the doctor left, the patient asked the nurse to search the internet for some reference sites for her. Together with the patient, the nurse found a society that had information about and access to MAID. Also at the request of the patient, the nurse left a voicemail with that same society and later the nurse helped the patient set up FaceTime on her laptop so the patient could conduct an interview with them as well.

The nurse was told by a clinical nursing supervisor that she had breached practice standards, compromised her licence, and was aiding and abetting a suicide.

The College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia:

The College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia regulates nurses and nurse practitioners in that province. The College’s guidance to nurses regarding MAID, set out on its website, advises nurses to avoid initiating a discussion about MAID with patients or their families, and, if they are approached for information about MAID, to recommend that the patient discuss the matter with a physician. The College also recommends that if a nurse is approached to participate in MAID that they seek independent legal advice.

The fact that this home care nurse was suspended even though it was the patient and not the nurse who initiated the discussion indicates the need for all nurses to be cautious when dealing with questions or requests for information on MAID.

Assisted Dying Legislation

As we reported here, the Federal Government recently unveiled Bill C-14, legislation governing medical assistance in dying. The Bill contemplates medical and nursing practitioners having a role in MAID. However, until the bill is passed, there is no authority for nurses to participate in MAID, and no health professional may provide MAID without an authorizing order of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. As explained here, until Bill C-14 is passed, individuals are permitted to access MAID where the criteria from the Carter case are met, but they are required to seek authorization from the Court to access MAID.

Guidance for Nurses in Ontario:

On March 17, 2016, The College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) released “Physician-Assisted Death: Interim Guidance for Nursing in Ontario”. In it, the CNO recommends that patients who ask about or request initiation of MAID are to be referred to a physician for further consultation and follow-up. Furthermore, if nurses are asked to participate in MAID they should:

  • ask to see the authorizing Court Order;
  • review the order carefully; and
  • seek legal counsel.

For more information on MAID, or legal advice on this topic, please contact us.

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