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Provincial consensus unlikely on assisted-dying rules

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Canadian health ministers are working on a common approach to doctor-assisted dying, but it is unlikely provinces and territories will totally agree on what those rules will be.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, in Vancouver on Thursday to meet with her provincial and federal counterparts, said the group reviewed two recent reports and discussed the concerns of individual provinces. She said there is a general hope that individual provinces will come up with legislation that is as similar as possible, but it is too soon to say if that can be done.

"Those are decisions that provinces and territories will have to make," she said.

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The Supreme Court of Canada has given the federal government until June to draft legislation to set the parameters for doctor-assisted death, but the provinces must determine how it will be carried out.

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said he expects the provinces' rules will be "more similar than different," but it may be hard to agree on issues such as the minimum age, eligibility and waiting periods. "Health care is a provincial responsibility and this is health care. Each of us in our provinces and territories will have discussions with our colleagues about how we approach this," he said after the meeting.

Cindy Forbes, president of the Canadian Medical Association, which on Thursday again called for national guidelines, said her members want as much consistency as possible, taking into account that Quebec already has a law.

The two-day meeting of health ministers touched on several topics and is the first step to establish a new deal on health care with the federal government. The meetings are the beginning of what is expected to be a year of intense talks aimed at setting national standards and delivering the stable funding the Liberals promised during the election. The existing health accord expires in 2017.

The federal government agreed to join the provinces and territories in a working group to examine ways to drive down the cost of prescription drugs, a move some provinces, especially Ontario, are hoping will lead to a national pharmacare plan.

Dr. Philpott said she wants prescription drugs to be more affordable, but said it is too soon to commit to a national drug plan.

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