Watchdog calls for 'compassionate' parole as prison system adopts new assisted death policy

Watchdog calls for 'compassionate' parole as prison system adopts new assisted death policy
From CBC - February 25, 2018

The federal prison watchdog is urging more "compassionate" parole options and a ban on medically assisted death behind bars as Canada's prison system manages an increasingly sick, mentally ill and elderly inmate population.

Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger said new guidelines brought in on November 29, 2017 allow the prison system to act as a "facilitator or enabler" of death, breaching the system's legal and ethical obligations.

In a Feb. 12, 2018 letter to acting Correctional Service Canada Commissioner Anne Kelly, Zinger condemned the new policy, insisting that terminally ill inmates should be given conditional release on "humanitarian and compassionate" grounds.

"Practically and perceptually, I simply can not imagine a scenario where it would be considered acceptable to allow an external provider to carry out a MAID (medical assistance in death) procedure in a federal penitentiary," he wrote in the letter, obtained by CBC News through an access to information request to his office.

"I do not see how such a decision could be publicly defended by the service or minister, on any ground."

Under the CSC's new directives, an assisted deathis to be carried out in a community hospital or other facilitybut the procedure can take place in a penitentiary regional hospital or treatment centre in exceptional circumstances and at the request of the inmate.

CSC told CBCNews it hasreceived eight requests related to MAIDand, to date, three inmates have been approved for medically-assisted deaththough not all three have completed the procedure.Two of the inmates were already living in the community.

In his letter, Zinger said thefirst documented case of a federal inmate receiving MAID occurred recently, with two correctional officers helping toescort the inmate to the hospital where the procedure took place.

He said he believes the parole system needs to be changed to accelerate requests from dying inmates, while the federal government should consider legislative reform to include medical parole.Most terminally ill inmatesdo not pose a danger to public safety, he saidand if there is a risk, it can be managed.

"If it serves no public safety purpose, if it's costly and if it is an affront to human dignity, you should probably change the system to make it more responsive," he told CBCNews.

A prisoner's 'right to die'

Medical assistance in death was legalized in Canada in 2016, leaving advocates, health professionals,lawyers and academics dealing with a range of ethical questions, including a prisoner's right to die.

Zinger said assisted deaths should occur onlyoutside correctional facilities and should be performed byregistered health care providers operating outside of the prison system. A prohibition on assisted dying within prisons, he said,would protect the integrity of the system now and in the future, when eligibility for assisted death could expand to those suffering from acute psychiatric illnesses.

The prison ombudsman's concerns come on the heels of a special report from CSC on deaths in prison.

It found 254 inmates died of natural causes over the last seven years, and that cancer, heart attacks and respiratory illness were the leading causes of death. Half of those who died while incarcerated also had a mental health disorder.

Most were white, and serving life or indeterminate sentences for homicide or other violent or repeat offences.

Among the offenders who died in prison, 88 had applied for "parole by exception," which allows for release into the community on compassionate grounds.

'Horrifying experience'

Assisted death default


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