The territorial government has released interim guidelines for how healthcare professionals will provide medical assistance in dying if proposed federal legislation is approved.
Bill C-14 passed in the House of Commons on May 31 and has been referred to senators for their final approval.
The proposed bill is the result of a Supreme Court decision last February which ruled that the law preventing doctor-assisted death was a violation of a patient’s rights.
At the time, Canada’s top court ordered the federal government to pass legislation on medically assisted dying within a year of its decision. That deadline was then extended another four months.
As of Monday, medical assistance in dying is legal in Canada even though there is no legislation in place.
Addressing MLAs this week, territorial health minister Glen Abernethy assured residents that the NWT is ready to provide the service if necessary.
“The NWT is ready to ensure residents can access this option if they request it,” he said. “Our priority is to protect both patients and the healthcare providers involved in medical assistance in dying.
“Safeguards have also been established to ensure this service is provided in a safe, fair, and caring manner.”
If a resident decides to pursue medical assistance in dying, territorial health officials say they must be eligible for NWT health services, be at least 18 years of age and have a grievous medical condition.
They must also make a voluntary request for the option and not make a decision based on external pressures.
A number of safeguards have also been put in place to protect patients and healthcare providers.
They include having patients meet with at least two doctors to ensure their needs meet the criteria, informing patients of alternatives to medically assisted dying and ensuring patients provide clear consent to the option.
“This can be a challenging issue for many of our residents,” said Abernethy. “Medical assistance in dying is a deeply personal subject for many people.”
The territory’s Department of Health says the interim guidelines will be adapted in the coming weeks to reflect any changes made to the federal legislation.