Lester’s story: MAID, choice and peace of mind
Personal Stories | October 15, 2021 | Audrey Baylis
After more than 58 years of marriage, my husband, Lester Baylis took his last breath just one week shy of his 83rd birthday. It wasn’t a typical end of life scenario but planned through the medical assistance in dying program (MAID).
Lester suffered a heart attack in 2000 resulting in double bypass surgery. In 2009, he suffered a second heart attack and had a pacemaker/defibrillator installed. These life saving measures blessed Lester and I with decades of quality life that we might not have had otherwise.
Unfortunately, in 2020, Lester’s heart began to deteriorate and doctors concluded that they had provided all the medical options and could only offer him end-of-life support and care. It was explained to us what could be expected for his quality of life up until his impending death, which was not pleasant nor easy to hear. He would have declining health with weakness increasing as he struggled to breathe.
While taking some time coming to terms with his approaching death and loss of control over his quality and quantity of life, Lester was inspired to look at the aspects of the situation where he could maintain control. Lester spoke to his family doctor about the possibility of MAID in the fall of 2020.
Competency in making a decision such as this is crucial, and after being deemed eligible, Lester was required to get a second assessment. Lester accepted that he was going to die and made the decision to lean into MAID in order to maintain some autonomy over the end of his life. With all the doctors willing to honor Lester’s decision combined with the reports from St. Michael’s Hospital, he was admitted to the MAID program. Overall it took approximately ten days to be accepted into the program, from the early discussions to the final approval.
Lester chose his birthday, November 29th, to make his transition. However, his condition declined so rapidly that the date needed to be moved forward. With the new date set, a nurse practitioner came to our home and, to ensure there was no coercion, interviewed Lester separately to re-confirm Lester’s decision and that he was of sound mind. He then made his last trip to St. Michael’s Hospital to have his defibrillator deactivated. Again, the doctor had a lengthy discussion with Lester before she approved the deactivation of the unit.
In the six weeks leading up to Lester’s chosen date we went on road trips every day exploring the back country of Ontario and visiting family and friends regardless of the weather. On November 22, Lester and I went to dinner at our favorite restaurant, Wixam Bridge in Uxbridge. The restaurant had no idea that Lester was sick or that this would be his last meal, but their presentation was uniquely beautiful and certainly made for a special last supper.
On the 23rd, we awoke as usual and had our last coffee and breakfast together. Our daughters, Dianne and Sharon, soon arrived to enjoy the final moments together as a family. Dr. Dayal arrived, prepared the medication, and asked again if Lester was sure of his decision. Before administering the drugs, she gave Lester a final opportunity to withdrawal his request of a medically assisted death, confirmed that he was still mentally capable of making this choice and obtained his final consent to proceed.
As we waiting for the drugs to take hold I was especially chatty that morning to which Lester told the girls that “their mother was talking too much” and made them laugh. Lester was a part of the whole process, communicating with us right up to the minute before he took his last breath. The entire affair was peaceful, safe and loving.
I want to share Lester’s story – our story, to help remove the stigma around MAID and to help others understand the process. I don’t have bad memories of the last days of my husband’s life. I didn’t witness him struggling. His last days could have been very different, full of suffering and pain, and I would have been left with those memories instead of the wonderful ones we made roaming the countryside and visiting our loved ones.
This process cannot be decided in advance, it cannot be done through a power of attorney or at the time of writing one’s will. It cannot be pre-ordered and it cannot be a designated act. Despite the new bill (C-7) passed on March 17, 2021, preplanning for MAID continues to be discussed by our government officials. I am hopeful then that everyone who is interested in making advance requests for MAID legal will be following as closely as I the parliamentary review of MAID, which will include a study of advance requests (and many other important issues).
Currently, advance requests for MAID are not legal in Canada. There is no ability to preplan any of these procedures ahead of a catastrophic or life altering event which may impair your capacity to make future health related decisions. By allowing this discussion to take place early on with family, medical professionals and the support of the government we will be able to maintain a quality of life up until the time that an individual chooses MAID. Allowing a person to plan in advance would prevent any future complications if they were for some reason unable to qualify for MAID due to being declared non-competent.
Not all doctors and nurse practitioners may want to provide medical assistance in dying but it would be their responsibility to refer patients to another doctor or nurse practitioner for support. In our case the support from the local medical staff was phenomenal and everyone was so compassionate throughout the process.
Although some of our long-time friends have not understood Lester’s decision, I remain hopeful that with time and education those relationships will mend as they come to terms with his choice. Having a medically assisted death was a deeply personal decision, one that questioned both his and my fundamental beliefs, challenged our conversations and was considered from every imaginable angle. Lester’s decision was what was right for him. And in the end, Lester’s end was on his terms and that is a wonderful thing.