UPDATE (April 7/17): The following topic has been updated.
CLICK HERE for current guidance on this issue.
The following is a joint message for all Alberta nurses from the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta (CLPNA), the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA), and the College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of Alberta (CRPNA):
Recent decisions by the Supreme Court and the federal government regarding physician-assisted death has raised questions among nurses about the impact on their practice. In a proactive step, the three nursing regulators in Alberta are working to establish collaborative guidelines for their members.
On June 6, a new right to physician-assisted death in Canada will become law. Currently, individuals who wish to seek physician-assisted death during the four-month extension period between February 6 and June 6 may apply to a judge for authorization.
In preparation for this change, the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta (CLPNA) is working with the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta and the College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of Alberta to seek input from members, develop unified guidance and provide resources to professional nurses in Alberta related to best ethical and competent care to patients at or near the end of life. Nurses are intimately involved in end-of-life care processes and the role of the professional nurse in Alberta in the dying process needs to be recognized, articulated and protected in law.
Guidelines for Licensed Practical Nurses
In the meantime, please use the following guidelines:
- The role of the professional nurse is to continue providing safe, competent, ethical nursing care to Albertans.
- As part of the therapeutic relationship, nurses have a duty to provide persons in their care with the information they need to make informed decisions, related to their health and well-being.
- In the absence of Criminal Code amendments providing protection to other members of the health-care team, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and registered psychiatric nurses cannot be involved in any activities that could be seen as assisting or counselling in physician-assisted death. Until legislation is established that protects nurses, any questions by patients seeking physician-assisted death must be directed to a physician.
It is possible that during the four-month extension (February 6 – June 6, 2016) some patients in Alberta may seek a court order to access physician-assisted death. Whether any health care professionals other than physicians can assist with physician-assisted death during this period may depend on the content of the court order obtained by the patient. Any Licensed Practical Nurses who are asked to assist with physician-assisted death during the four month period, and in the absence of Criminal Code amendments providing protection to the health care team, should contact the CLPNA’s Practice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org, 780-484-8886 or 1-800-661-5877 (toll free in Alberta) for advice.
We will continue to work collaboratively and update you on the developments of physician-assisted death in Canada.
More about the Carter Decision
On Feb. 6, 2015 in the Carter decision, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the federal law prohibiting physician-assisted death creating a new legal right to physician-assisted death in Canada. The Carter case provides legal protection to physicians involved in physician-assisted death, so they can practice without risk of criminal prosecution. Nurses require this protection, too.
This decision was to come into effect Feb. 6, 2016. However on Jan. 15, 2016, the Supreme Court granted a four-month extension to the federal government to consider its approach to physician-assisted death. This means that the Carter decision does not come into effect until Jun. 6, 2016. The Supreme Court did indicate that individuals who wish to seek physician-assisted death during the four-month extension may apply to a Judge for authorization.
A special joint committee on physician-assisted death, comprised of 11 members of Parliament and five senators, has been appointed to review recent relevant consultation activities and studies, consult with Canadians, experts and stakeholders and make recommendations to the federal government on the legislative framework for physician-assisted death.