Is euthanasia an essential service?

Is euthanasia an essential service? That is the question that Canadian health officials are grappling with in the coronavirus epidemic.

At least two clinics in Ontario have stopped providing euthanasia (or medical assistance in dying, as it is called in Canada) to prevention transmission and to free up health-care resources. Others regard it as essential and are relaxing the rules to allow “virtual assessments of eligibility”.

“It’s not a decision that we have taken lightly,” said Andrea Frolic, of Hamilton Health Sciences, which has shuttered its program. “It’s heartbreaking for us, as it is for patients and families seeking this care.”

“I think it’s really unfortunate. I don’t know their rationale for having shut it down completely,” Chantal Perrot, a Toronto MAID provider, told the Globe and Mail. “I don’t understand how they could not see MAID as an essential service for people who are at end of life.”

The University Health Network in Toronto is continuing to provide MAID to inpatients during the pandemic. “We had to make some very difficult decisions with respect to other services and programs that were put on hold or shuttered during this pandemic,” said Mark Bonta, who is in charge of euthanasia at UHN. “Given that MAID is something that is listed as a human right for our patients … we recognized it was important that this be deemed an essential service.”

Stefanie Green, a Victoria doctor and the president of the Canadian Association of MAID Assessors and Providers (CAMAP,) said the health authority on Vancouver Island has also deemed assisted dying an essential service. Officials there are even providing protective equipment to doctors who are still willing to help patients access euthanasia.