If you need help finding witnesses for a patient who is requesting medical assistance in dying (MAID), or if you would like general information about Dying With Dignity Canada’s (DWDC) Independent Witness Program, please email DWDC’s Kelsey Goforth at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her toll-free at 1-800-495-6156 ext. 25.
Canadian law states that all patients requesting MAID must put their request in writing. Their formal request must be signed by two independent witnesses. According to Bill C-14:
Any person who is at least 18 years of age and who understands the nature of the request for medical assistance in dying may act as an independent witness, except if they:
(a) know or believe that they are a beneficiary under the will of the person making the request, or a recipient, in any other way, of a financial or other material benefit resulting from that person’s death;
(b) are an owner or operator of any health care facility at which the person making the request is being treated or any facility in which that person resides;
(c) are directly involved in providing health care services to the person making the request; or
(d) directly provide personal care to the person making the request.
In practice, this rule has made it difficult for patients and their clinicians to find independent witnesses. Patients who are suffering badly enough to qualify for MAID are not always in contact with people who aren’t involved in their care. And their medical condition may make it difficult, sometimes impossible, for them to find two eligible witnesses to sign their request. As a result, this rule has caused unreasonable delays for Canadians requesting MAID, subjecting them to continued stress and suffering at their time of greatest vulnerability and need.
Dying With Dignity Canada’s response
DWDC does not support the independent witnesses requirement in the federal legislation. We do not believe it is a safeguard, as independent witnesses for MAID can only confirm the person’s identity and witness that the request form was signed by the person, or their proxy. And, it puts Canadians’ right to privacy in healthcare at risk. It exposes people’s private healthcare information to people who are not involved in their care, and who are sometimes complete strangers. This rule was intended to be a safeguard, but in reality, it has turned out to be a significant barrier to access.
However, as long as the law requires it, we are happy to support patients and clinicians who are struggling to find independent witnesses. In late 2016, we launched our Independent Witness Program, which was developed with the help of our regional chapters and approved by the DWDC board. Since then, our trained volunteers have served as independent witnesses in a total of more than 350 MAID cases. This program is but one example of how DWDC and its supporters are breaking down barriers facing suffering Canadians who want to access their right to a peaceful death.
Becoming a volunteer witness
Are you interested in becoming an independent witness for MAID requests? If so, please email DWDC National Volunteer and Events Coordinator Kelsey Goforth at email@example.com or call her toll-free at 1-800-495-6156 ext. 25.