Mom’s end-of-life choices included palliative care and MAID

Personal Stories | June 28, 2024 | Judy Baldwin

Home / Personal Stories / Mom’s end-of-life choices included palliative care and MAID
A photo of Judy's mom after her surgery holding a bouquet of flowers

I can’t imagine many people electing to undergo major surgery for cancer in their 91st year during the height of a pandemic. But our mother did. She was a force of nature – a true lover of life – and she wasn’t ready to pack it in.    

To nobody’s surprise, she demonstrated impressive resilience during her recovery.  However, six months later, the cancer returned. Given her age and the unlikelihood of complete recovery, another surgery and chemotherapy were not options.The surgeon’s role had come to an end and a palliative care referral was made. 

Mom, my siblings and I were mightily impressed by the efficient and timely handoff from the surgeon’s office to at-home palliative care. A patient navigator had spent an hour with mom on the phone, seeking to understand the person behind the patient – to get a sense of who she was and what was important to her. The next day, a nurse from the palliative care team came in to see her and arranged for a palliative care physician to visit that week. This physician was scheduled to return for a follow-up appointment.   

During this visit, the palliative care physician said he was aware of mom’s registration for medically-assisted dying. He informed mom that his religious beliefs prevented him from serving as the administering physician for MAID. Given the nature of her cancer and the potential for a rapid decline, he recommended that she transfer to the more urgent Track 1 (where death is foreseeable) to ensure that an administering physician would be available when she needed and wanted MAID. She respected this man’s right to his own beliefs and was grateful for his professionalism, his timely counsel and his humanity. 

Once the provincial MAID office was notified of the shift to Track 1, our mother’s doctor provided her approval for MAID. The next step was to gain approval from the administering MAID physician who called within the next week. At the end of the call, he agreed to proceed and the next day, the MAID approval process was completed and the date was set – in two weeks’ time. Mom was hugely relieved by this news, saying, “I know where this is going.  It’s definitely time.” She had always been crystal clear about her end-of-life wishes so this moment did not come as a shock to me. In fact, I shared her relief and gratitude, happy that she could exercise choice when it really mattered.  

Thanks to support from an exceptional palliative care team and with the knowledge that she could access MAID, our mother was able to approach the end of her life as the curious, vibrant and capable woman she had always been. The last two weeks of her life were spent with family members and emails and phone calls with friends – lots of laughter and activity as she calmly orchestrated her final chapter. With the help of anti-nausea drugs, mom was able to enjoy all the foods she loved. A voracious reader all her life, she was determined to finish – and did finish – an 896-page biography on British playwright Tom Stoppard before she departed.   

When our mother died with medical assistance from a calm and compassionate administering physician, she left this world on her own terms — as herself, knowing she was deeply loved and valued by many, surrounded by her four children, her art and the classical music she adored. A deeply saddening moment for us all to be sure but in equal parts profound, dignified, peaceful and exactly what mom wanted. A good death at the end of a life very well-lived. 

My point in sharing this story is that our mother was able to exercise choice as she approached her end of life – from the moment she decided to have surgery to the moment she elected to proceed with MAID. She was grateful to be the beneficiary of best practices in coordinated patient-centered health care delivery. Our family witnessed how effectively palliative care and MAID can work together to reduce stress, manage pain and optimize quality of life at the end of life. 

This experience has fueled my belief in the need for increased access to palliative care and the right of all adults to exercise choice around end-of-life decisions. There is more work to be done and we must never lose these essential services and rights. I encourage others to share their stories and to actively support Dying With Dignity Canada. Together we are stronger. Our voices count in making change happen! 

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