Assisted suicide: CNA on this issue

January 2015   Comments

Will the Supreme Court strike down the laws banning assisted suicide?

CNA does not have a position on assisted suicide. CNA’s focus has been, and continues to be, on promoting the palliative approach to care. This approach “focuses on the person and family, and on their quality of life throughout an illness, not just at the end of life. It reinforces the person’s autonomy and right to be actively involved in his or her own care — and strives to give individuals and their families a greater sense of control” (from The Way Forward).

CNA believes that the vast majority of concerns that sparked the assisted suicide debate would be addressed through universal access to quality palliative care services for all Canadians. Further, clear communication is missing in these emotionally charged discussions, in part because the definitions for many of the terms vary. Lack of access to these services and unclear communication were among the concerns raised by RNs participating in the recent CNA survey on palliative and end-of-life care. Others were the societal fear of aging, dying and death; the disconnect between the wishes of patients and those of their families; and the gaps in supports for patients, families, caregivers and nurses.

A joint position statement on the palliative approach to care is being developed by CNA, the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Nurses Group.

In your practice
CNA’s Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses, to be used in conjunction with the professional standards, regulations and laws that guide practice, states that when people in their care are terminally ill or dying, nurses “foster comfort, alleviate suffering, advocate for adequate relief of discomfort and pain, and support a dignified and peaceful death.” The code also states that any previously known wishes or advance directives that apply in the situation are to be considered and respected.

Although nurses have a right to follow their conscience, “if nursing care is requested that is in conflict with the nurse’s moral beliefs and values but in keeping with professional practice, the nurse provides safe, compassionate, competent and ethical care until alternative care arrangements are in place to meet the person’s needs and desires.”

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