Dying With Dignity Canada: How far we have come
News & Updates | January 12, 2024 | Sarah Dobec
Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) was founded in 1980 as a Canadian society concerned with the care and treatment of the terminally ill and the quality of dying for all Canadians. In June, a few individuals gathered to discuss their concerns about the quality of care being received by dying persons in Canada. By September, the group was named Dying With Dignity (DWD) and Marilynne Seguin was appointed Executive Director.
On May 17, 1982, “Dying with Dignity: A Canadian Society Concerned with the Quality of Dying” was recognized as a registered charitable organization. The first directors of the corporation were David Stuart Forsee, Graham Parker and Patrick Nowell-Smith.
The original mission of Dying With Dignity was to improve the quality of dying for all Canadians in accordance with their own wishes, values and beliefs through:
- Educating Canadians about their rights to determine and choose health care options at the end of life
- Providing counselling and advocacy services to those who request them
- Building public support for legal change to permit voluntary, physician-assisted dying
- Providing Living Wills, Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care and other Advance Health Care Directives to the public and working toward their legal recognition throughout Canada.
In the early years, DWD began promoting the concept of Advance Health Care Directives in Canada, distributing newsletters on the topic of end-of-life care, conducting surveys in hospitals and amongst the public, as well as making public appearances at conferences and in the media with the goal of making end-of-life care a national conversation. Education was and always will be important work for DWDC.
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In 2005, a pilot project for the Client Support Program was completed and the Board of Directors decided to make it a department within the organization.
In 2010, an Angus Reid poll showed that 85 per cent of Canadians believed that legalizing assisted-dying would give people who are suffering an opportunity to ease their pain and 76 per cent believed it would establish clearer guidelines for physicians to deal with end-of-life decisions.
Despite wide support across the country, it was not until 2012 that three pilot Chapters were established in Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Calgary, Alberta, and Grand River, Ontario. As a result, DWD membership numbers increased. This was also the year that the right to die movement won a landmark victory as the law criminalizing medically assisted dying was deemed to violate The Charter of Rights and Freedoms when Gloria Taylor became the first Canadian granted a personal exemption to seek physician assistance to die.
In 2013, DWD initiated the first advisory group with the Clinicians Advisory Council; it had 13 founding members. In more recent years, a Disability Advisory Council, a Patron’s Council and, for a short time, the First-Persons Advocates’ Initiatives Council were established, all expanding the support and legitimacy of the organization’s mission. Councils are added and updated based on current priorities. For example, the recent MAID and Mental Disorders Advisory Council. The legal name of the organization was changed to Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) in 2013.
Today, DWDC is governed by a board of 12 committed and capable individuals, DWDC’s national office houses a team of 15 staff, and the 11 Chapters and over 275 volunteers across the country are a testament to the importance and need for advocacy, support and education about end-of-life rights.
The commitment to improving quality of dying, protecting end-of-life rights, and helping Canadians avoid unwanted suffering continues to be the focus of DWDC. We do this through advocacy, support and education.
Our advocacy efforts are focused on ensuring equitable access to end-of-life care and removing barriers to end-of-life choice for people across the country. Our Director of Stakeholder and Government Relations works to build relationships with other organizations and citizens aligned with protecting end-of-life rights, as well as with government officials to educate them on our work and solicit support.
Every day, our Support team assists people across the country with their questions about end-of-life care. In 2023, our team emailed or spoke with over 2,500 people who needed resources like our Advance Care Planning Kits, provincial MAID forms, or just had questions about end-of-life choice. They also coordinate Independent Witnesses for MAID request forms through the help of our many volunteers across the country.
Through our national office, our Chapters and our many volunteers, we deliver educational opportunities on end-of-life choice and rights in various ways including webinars, in-person presentations and workshops, booths at local events, media engagement and content on our website. Whenever possible, we fulfill opportunities to connect with people to provide information on end-of-life issues.
For over 40 years, Dying With Dignity Canada has advocated for end-of-life rights across the country. We do this with the generous financial contributions of our many supporters and the incredible efforts of our volunteers. Our hope is that death and dying becomes an ordinary and acceptable topic of conversation, and that we achieve equitable access to end-of-life choice and care.
For more details, see the timeline on our website outlining DWDC’s work and legislative changes over the years in support of end-of-life choice.