Many financial advisors recommend that their clients make powers of attorney for property and personal care, and so are drawn into discussions about end-of-life care. Many of those discussions will now include Canada's proposed "Medical Assistance in Dying" legislation. The debate over the adequacy of the law on assisted dying is causing people to become confused about the law governing end-of-life treatment. The federal law on assisted dying is quite literally up for debate: Ontario's law about end-of-life treatment is settled and clear. Mentally capable people have the right to refuse life sustaining treatment. People over age 16 can, in advance of need, express legally binding decisions to refuse life sustaining treatment. "Advance wishes" are often incorporated in "Powers of Attorney for Personal Care." These powers can be used to appoint an Attorney to make treatment decisions if the maker of the power becomes mentally incapable AND to express legally binding advance wishes on consent to or refusal of particular treatments.
The take away lessons are:
- Mentally capable people have the right to refuse life sustaining treatment.
- People over 16 can express legally binding advance wishes regarding treatment acceptance or refusal in a power of attorney for personal care.
- People should openly discuss their advance wishes with their attorneys for personal care. They should also make sure that the attorney can be found quickly in an emergency and has access to the power of attorney document.
- As currently drafted the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code do not allow people to empower an attorney to consent to assisted death on their behalf. Whether people should be allowed to do so is contentious, and the law could change as it is debated in Parliament.