Assisted death is not a new practice and neither is the controversy that surrounds it. While advances in modern medicine have increased the average person’s lifespan, delaying death isn’t always a positive. In fact, the ability to live longer can actually diminish the quality life for those who suffer from degenerative or incurable diseases. Assisted death, along with assisted suicide, has been legal in Canada as of June 2016. However, there are certain criteria that must be met before someone can request physician-assisted death and have their life insurance policies paid out. Here is a guide on navigating life insurance and assisted death throughout Canada.

The Criteria for Medical Assisted Death in Canada

Since 1993, there have been three high-profile court cases involving women seeking the right to physician-assisted death in Canada. Sue Rodriguez, Kay Carter, and Gloria Taylor all suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which causes progressive muscle paralysis, chronic pain, and, eventually, a slow death without affecting cognitive functioning.

Although the Supreme Court denied Rodriguez the right to assisted suicide, the ruling was overturned on February 6, 2015. Both Carter and Taylor represent a major development in Canadian law. When the court struck down the provision in the Criminal Code, they gave mentally-component Canadian adults suffering from intolerable illnesses the right to pursue a doctor’s assistance in dying.

The decision to recognize physician-assisted dying as a medical service was well received by a majority of Canadians but opposed by some. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) reported that not all doctors were willing to help a patient die, but educational sessions are offered to those that want to learn the process. To qualify for medical assistance in dying, an individual must be 18 years or older and meet the following six eligibility criteria:

1. Have a serious and incurable illness, disease, or disability
2. Be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability
3. Endure physical and psychological suffering that is intolerable to them
4. Their natural death has become reasonably foreseeable
5. They have made a voluntary request for assisted death that was not made as a result of external pressure
6. They must also be capable of providing informed consent at the time that medical assistance in dying is provided

There are also criteria regarding who can provide medical assistance in dying and who cannot:

1. Physicians and nurse practitioners can directly administer a substance that causes the death of the person who has requested it
2. Pharmacists, family members, and health care providers may provide medical assistance

Assisted Death Conditions in Each Province

Guidelines for medical assistance in dying and life insurance differ from province to province. In Alberta, two doctors must independently agree that the patient meets all the criteria set out by the Supreme Court. All requests must be made in writing, signed by the patient, and two witnesses, and there must be a period reflection of 14 days from initial request to final consent.

In British Columbia, the patient must be eligible for publicly funded health care, and only one witness must sign their written request. In Manitoba, an adult is defined as 18 years of age and written consent is only signed by the patient. The waiting period between a formal request and procedure is at least seven days except for those whose death is imminent.

In New Brunswick, the legal age of consent for assisted death is 16 while it is at least 19 years of age in Newfoundland, Labrador, and Nova Scotia. Criteria in Yukon is similar to Alberta and Saskatchewan. Quebec does not require any witnesses to sign formal requests.

No advance requests for assisted death or suicide can be made anywhere in Canada. This means that Canadians with conditions like Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s disease, which leads to mental incapacity, are not be granted the right to consent while they are still of sound mind. Their natural death is also not considered to be reasonably foreseeable.

Life Insurance and Medical Assistance in Dying

It is important to understand the criteria for physician-assisted death in your province because it will impact whether or not your life insurance policies are paid out. Life insurance policies typically contain an industry-standard clause releasing providers from paying if a client commits suicide within a certain time period, typically two years, after signing the contract. But, if you follow the correct process according to your province, then the possible exclusion will not apply to your case.

If you or a loved one are currently supporting someone requesting assisted death, you can provide assistance by following the process outlined by your province. Some require a formal request to be signed by a relative while others do not. All requests are to be made by the terminally ill individual and reviewed by one or two medical practitioners. This protocol ensures that a spouse or family member does not take matters into their own hands. If a person is found guilty of illegally assisting someone’s death, they are prevented from inheriting the estate of the victim. While you may think that taking steps to hasten someone else’s death from a place of genuine compassion is helping them, it is considered a crime and could have severe legal consequences.

Learn more about life insurance and medically assisted dying at LSM Insurance.

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