In Case You Missed It: May 2018

In Case You Missed It is a monthly round-up of news articles and commentaries featuring Dying With Dignity Canada speakers and stories. Did you miss these stories in May?

The top court in Ontario has agreed to hear an appeal into a legal challenge against the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s effective referral policy, which protects patient access to assisted dying in the province. Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) CEO Shanaaz Gokool commented on the appeal in this blog post:

"If the effective referral policy is struck down, it would send a troubling message to doctors who oppose assisted dying: that it’s somehow okay to tell their patients that they are on their own to find answers to their questions about assisted dying."

After a public outcry from physicians and assisted dying advocates, British Columbia has raised its payments to doctors who provide medical assistance in dying (MAID). Dr. Stefanie Green, the president of the Canadian Association of MAID Assessors and Providers (CAMAP), spoke to The Globe and Mail:

“In the past, the fees have been a significant barrier to recruiting new physicians to do this new work.”

The update was also covered by CBC News.

To learn why this is such a hot-button issue in B.C., please read this joint statement released last July by DWDC and CAMAP.

Dr. James Downar, a member of DWDC’s Physicians Advisory Council, wrote a powerful piece for Healthy Debate about how “frailty can be just as grievous and irremediable as cancer.”

“We all agree that ageism is a bad thing, that people can be healthy in old age, and that we need to improve the way we care for our frail elderly. But MAID requests are almost never driven by uninformed stereotypes or poor care. They are usually made by well-informed people with grievous and irremediable medical conditions. And frailty can be just as grievous and irremediable as cancer.”

In 1997, Susan Doerksen chose to end her life rather than live with excruciating chronic pain. While Canada now has an assisted dying law in place, many Canadians are still unable to access their right to a peaceful death. DWDC’s Communications Officer Cory Ruf spoke to the Winnipeg Free Press about why Canadians in situations like Susan’s are still being left without fair choices at end of life.

"The imposition of the reasonably foreseeable requirement has essentially deprived people of that option, who would otherwise be eligible or have the right to make their own choice," Ruf said. "It’s leading people and families into very difficult situations and situations that resemble what individuals and families were put into before assisted dying was legalized.”

Suffering with severe fibromyalgia and chronic pain, Saskatchewan’s Cecilia Chmura died by suicide in January after she was told she didn't qualify for a medically assisted death. Her husband, David Dunn, was taken into custody and could now face criminal charges. Global News ran a three-part series on their heartbreaking story.

In August 2017, B.C.’s Adam Ross fulfilled his choice to die with dignity — the last option left to free him from a prolonged, untreatable pain condition. He died alone, without anyone’s assistance, taking care to minimize the burden on the people he loved. His story reveals how much work still needs to be done to ensure that Canadians have fair alternatives in the face of unbearable suffering.

His family was interviewed for an in-depth feature that appeared in DWDC’s 2017 Annual Report.

“Adam’s chronic pain mediated every moment of his experience. This made it almost impossible for him to derive pleasure from the normal, natural aspects of daily living,” explains his eldest sister, Sally. “He was finally left with a choice-less choice.”

Adam wrote about his decision and the excruciating daily pain that haunted every moment of his life in his final letter to his loved ones:

"Of course, I imagined dying in a different manner, as it should be our right to choose when and how we would like that process to go, especially when you live with unbearable incurable pain that will not take you from this world naturally. But, like so many other aspects in this life, the human race has far to go in this regard. There are no words to describe the unfairness of these circumstances, but I’ve come to believe we are not separated, in life and in death, we are one."

Despite having MAID legislation in place, some Canadians are still forced to access assisted dying elsewhere because of the restrictive eligibility criteria of the law. This article in The Conversation takes a look at the Swiss assisted dying model and the continued occurrence of “suicide tourism” by Canadians.

“The legalisation of MAiD in Canada did not bring an end to so-called “suicide tourism” by Canadians. According to Dignitas’ statistics, 60 Canadians used its service between 1998 and 2017, including 12 in 2017.”

On May 29, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) appeared at the B.C Court of Appeal to argue that Canada should not re-litigate issues already decided in Carter v. Canada. Jay Aubrey, a lawyer for the BCCLA, spoke to The Star Vancouver:

“Every day this law stands, and every day the Canadian government is fighting to preserve its law, is another day people suffering intolerably against their wishes,” Aubrey said. “They’re waiting for resolution to this trial. For many of those people, every day feels like an eternity. We’re not saying new evidence shouldn’t go before the court. If there’s new evidence of course it should. But it just shouldn’t be the same evidence.”

You can read more in the BCCLA’s press release

Ottawa artist Richard Darch accessed MAID on March 16. His brothers spoke to the Ottawa Citizen about his life and death.

“I hope that I’m lucky enough that I can feel as free as he felt that day. I think the process was the most humane thing I’ve ever seen.”

Doctors Nova Scotia, the association that represents all physicians in the province, is pushing for better palliative care. The association’s hopes and plans for the future were profiled in this Chronicle Herald piece:

“At the end of the day, we have one chance of dying well. You can’t come back and do it again. If it doesn’t go well, that affects the family and studies show for every person who dies, there’s at least five other people that are affected by that.”

Ninety-one-year-old Ruth Mutton spoke with The Hamilton Spectator about her plan to access an assisted death.

“I really enjoyed life, but it's time to let me go. I feel there's a peace coming. I'm not afraid at all.”

Nearly two years after the passage of Canada’s assisted dying law, stigma and controversy persists around the country’s new human right. Dr. Carol Leet, a Brampton, Ont. pediatrician, led a discussion on MAID in May. She spoke to Bradford Today about some of the challenges that patients and doctors continue to face.

“It’s all about dignity and control and choosing what happens at the end of your life.”

The Anglican Journal ran a piece on one Anglican family’s experience with assisted dying. Sixty-eight-year-old Carolyn Sitlington, who had ALS, accessed MAID in July 2016. Her family and priest shared details about her life, diagnosis, and choice:

“It’s what she wanted, truly wanted. And because of those wishes, it’s what we wanted for her, too. We didn’t want her to continue suffering, just sitting there, day after day.”

In this Letter to the Toronto Star, a former Baptist pastor shares why he supports both assisted dying and advance requests.

“While having to feed my beloved wife daily in long-term care — suffering indescribable emotional pain from Alzheimer’s — I pray that it will soon be the law in Canada to make an advance directive for physician-assisted death.”

Since Canada passed its assisted dying law in June 2016, 20 residents of Newfoundland and Labrador have died with medical assistance. The rates in the province are well below the Canadian average. This CBC News article takes a look at how religion might play a factor:

“Stiff opposition from religious groups is one factor, with some denominations refusing to allow doctor-assisted deaths at publicly funded, faith-based nursing homes, except under extreme circumstances.”

A Quebec woman shared what it was like to support her 98-year-old mother on an assisted dying journey in this CBC/Radio-Canada piece. (This article is in French.)

“I can tell you that we laughed that day until the last minute. […] It happened serenely, with joy.”

Animal care advocate Iris Carr accessed MAID on May 18. Her husband, Bill, shared their story with the Bowen Island Undercurrent.

Ten years ago, British journalist and writer Katharine Whitehorn reported on Oregon’s assisted dying laws with strong approval. Now she lives in a care home and is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Her powerful story highlights the need for advance requests.

“She wrote a living will, which her sons say demand she not be officiously kept alive beyond her wits. Yet there she sits, in a state she strove to avoid. She is on no life-sustaining medication that could be withdrawn: a body can long outlast its mind. She has survived cancer. Her sons say if she ever suffered pneumonia – once called “old man’s friend” – they would obey her and tell doctors to withhold antibiotics. Until then, she sits in God’s waiting room, surely a wicked God to wipe out all that makes a person who they are, without taking their life.”

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