BC auto insurer, ICBC, must decide what happens to death benefits and survivor insurance if a person chooses to have a doctor assist ending their life as a result of a catastrophic injury. Will ICBC death benefit insurance be excluded even if death would have occurred within the policy term anyway? Will ICBC pay for assisted death claims? Should there be assisted death benefits in British Columbia?
We can start asking these new questions in the wake of the Supreme Court of Canada decision to legalize doctor assisted death (Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5). A person with enduring and intolerable suffering due to a grievous and irremediable medical condition can now have a physician assist in ending their lives.
However the Supreme Court of Canada did find that the prohibition against suicide generally is a valid exercise of the federal criminal law power. So suicide is still illegal for all except those who face endless intolerable suffering either mentally and/or physically.
There is an average of 314 motor vehicle accident fatalities in British Columbia every year. The basic ICBC Autoplan pays funeral expenses up to $2,500 and death benefits to a spouse and dependents. However, under ICBC Part VII accident benefits, ICBC is not liable to pay benefits in respect of the injury or death of a person who commits suicide or attempts to commit suicide, whether he is sane or insane ( see section 96). These accident benefits include ICBC death benefits, survivor benefits and funeral expenses.
Will doctor assisted death be “suicide” as defined by the Insurance (Vehicle) Act in British Columbia? Stakeholders such as the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, ICBC, and other life insurance companies will have to develop policies and guidelines.
Natural justice dictates that the guidelines allow for death benefit claims in which the accident victim has been assisted in the “suicide” if there is evidence to support that natural death would have occurred as a result of the injuries and within the policy term.
Estate planners must now consider whether existing living wills should be changed to include decisions about end-of-life care and assisted suicide in situations where a grievous and irremediable medical condition causes enduring and intolerable suffering. Issues covered may include use of life-sustaining medical tools, intubation feeding, resuscitation, and the withholding of food and water.
Clarity from ICBC in the future will therefore be required about what constitutes a valid claim for death benefits in situations of doctor assisted death, and what evidence is required to support that claim.
Issue: Should ICBC pay for accident death and survivor benefits if a physician has assisted in ending the life of the policyholder?
Posted by ICBC Injury Claims Lawyer Mr. Renn A. Holness, B.A. LL.B.
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