The implementation of medical aid-in-dying (MAID) poses new challenges for clinical communication and counseling. Among these, health care providers must consider whether to initiate a discussion of MAID with eligible patients who do not directly ask about it. Norms and policies concerning this issue vary tremendously across jurisdictions where MAID is legally authorized, reflecting divergent assumptions about patients’ rights to information about end-of-life options and the purpose and potential harms of clinical disclosure.
This discussion forum essay draws on informed consent doctrine to analyze two policies concerning clinical communication about MAID: the legal prohibition against provider-initiated discussions of MAID in Victoria, Australia, and the Canadian Association of MAID Assessors and Providers (CAMAP) position that providers have an ethical and professional responsibility to inform eligible patients about MAID.
Informed consent requires that clinicians strike a balance between minimizing potential harms to patients caused by initiating discussions of MAID and the imperative to inform and counsel patients about all of their legally available medical options.
Clinicians should be aware of both the importance of communication as a tool to inform patients and the potential for clinical language to cause harm to or to unduly influence patients.