Medical Certificates of Death: First Principles and Established Practice Provide Answers to New Questions

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Health Law and Policy, Medical Jurisprudence, Voluntary euthanasia, physician-assisted death


Voluntary euthanasia became legal in Quebec in December 2015,1 although the legislation is currently the subject of litigation. In addition, physician-assisted death will become legal across Canada in February 2016,2 barring an extension on the deadline being given by the Supreme Court of Canada. There are many questions about how physician-assisted death should be regulated. One as-yet-unanswered question is “Should physician-assisted death be recorded anywhere on the medical certificate of death?” If so, a second question follows: “How should it be recorded — as manner and/or cause?” and if the latter, “Which category of cause: immediate, antecedent or underlying?” To address these questions, we reviewed the purposes of medical certificates of death, the various medical certificates of death in use across Canada, death certificates in jurisdictions that already permit physician-assisted death and the law with respect to life insurance in Canada and abroad. We found that, by turning to first principles and established practices regarding completion of medical certificates of death, we were able to find sensible answers to these questions.


Selected Works of Jocelyn Downie & Kacie Oliver

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