Intended for healthcare professionals


Commentary: How the Canadian Medical Association found a third way to support all its members on assisted dying

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 30 January 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l415
  1. Jeff Blackmer, vice president of international health
  1. Canadian Medical Association, Ottawa, Canada
  1. Jeff.blackmer{at}

To participate fully in the public debate, the CMA adopted a position of neutrality, advocating for all its members who held divergent views on a change in the law, writes Jeff Blackmer

For many years, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has followed the public debate in Canada on assisted dying and voluntary euthanasia. (In assisted dying, doctors prescribe drugs that eligible patients themselves choose to take to hasten their death. In euthanasia, professionals administer the drugs.)

Both subjects are extremely controversial and divisive, particularly for an organisation like the CMA. It represents almost 90 000 physicians, who hold wide ranging views on assisted dying. The CMA’s initial policy was that assisted dying and euthanasia were illegal in Canada and that physicians should not participate.

In 2013, a case was working its way through the Canadian judicial system.1 Kay Carter had severe spinal stenosis and travelled to Switzerland to obtain assisted dying. Her family subsequently challenged the federal Canadian law banning assisted dying as unconstitutional.

Important to be involved

This case had the potential to change the law in …

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