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This year’s incoming med students will be the first to learn about the new legislation on assisted dying. Photo: CC, valelopardo.

Medical ethics professor to teach students about new assisted dying laws

With Canada’s new legislation on assisted dying introduced in June, medical students at the University of Ottawa will be introduced to a new curriculum surrounding this medical procedure beginning this fall.

Dr. Jeff Blackmer, U of O professor of medical ethics and vice-president of medical professionalism at the Canadian Medical Association, spoke to the Fulcrum about the new laws surrounding assisted dying and what this means for the incoming class of U of O med students.

“Even for those physicians who do not intend to make it a part of their practice, they need to know about the legal, ethical, and regulatory aspects so that they can discuss it with those patients who have questions,” said Blackmer on the importance of this change to the curriculum.

The curriculum itself is not entirely new—assisted dying has long been taught at the U of O medical school, but in different ways.

“Until now, teaching has focused on other aspects of care at the end of life, such as palliative care and withdrawal of life-sustaining interventions. When assisted dying was discussed previously, it was in the context of court cases or failed government bills.”

Blackmer highlighted that, due to the new laws, this will be the first year in which medical students will be learning about assisted dying as a safe and legal medical procedure.

Even though assisted suicide is legal across Canada, the ways in which it will be taught to students will depend on the standards of each individual medical school in the country, as Blackmer noted.

“While there are national standards for undergraduate medical education, they are fairly high level and the implementation occurs at the individual medical school level.”

Similar changes, therefore, will not take place all at once across Canada. Blackmer expects them to be slowly incorporated into curriculums across the country over the next few years depending on the school, to meet the needs of students as necessary.

Last week, the U of O’s incoming class of medical students listened to Blackmer lecture about the new assisted dying laws for the first time. While many students were responsive, Blackmer does foresee some opposition to the changes to the curriculum, though nothing too drastic.

“The only opposition I would foresee would be with respect to the question of whether students would be forced to directly observe or participate in the procedure itself.”

Blackmer compared the changes to the curriculum to what students are already learning about therapeutic abortion—students will only learn enough that they will know what options are available for their patients.

“(Students) will not be forced to observe or participate directly if it is against their moral conscience to do so.”