Time for life: Why we need advance requests

Personal Stories | October 6, 2023 | Barbara Stebbings

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A photo of Barb and Bill Stebbings hugging and smiling

“I feel cheated, Mom. We could have had Dad for at least another year.”  

However, on May 12, 2020, my husband, Bill, died through medical assistance in dying (MAID). We weren’t ready to lose him, and maybe most of all, Bill could have had more time to live and be with his family and friends. As it was explained to us, MAID does prematurely end a loved one’s life because they must be cognizant and able to clearly state that this is what they know will happen.* They will die. Sadly, we all felt the sudden shock and trauma of watching our loved one pass away when only moments before he was talking with everyone and tearfully saying his goodbyes. This is why advance requests for MAID must be made legal as soon as possible. People need to be able to put in writing circumstances in which they would want an assisted death when they cannot speak for themselves; this is so important especially people who are diagnosed with dementia.
 
“That’s the whole package,” Bill said hesitantly, stumbling on some of the words he was trying to say to me. “I just want to help someone. Give the doctors a chance to learn, to help.” As I recalled the conversation we had before his death, I realized that Bill felt if he allowed the researchers to study his brain, then maybe they would gain some insight into the world of Alzheimer’s. 
 
Bill was ready to give his life to help others. He knew where this disease was heading and as our family doctor said, “This path is rough.” Bill did not want to be in a long-term care home or hospital. He only wanted me or his family to care for him. He had been a strong, athletic man, an admired and respected teacher, good friend and loving father, grandfather, brother, uncle, and my darling husband; my best friend for almost 49 years.”
 
I have had a remarkable life” he told me. Yet he could have had more days, more time, with us and gone down a gentler path until the decision was finally made for MAID. 

As I read in the book, The Last Doctor by Dr. Jean Marmoreo and Johanna Schneller, the doctor said, “she would never rush anyone into MAID” and “she would delve into their histories, confer with their doctors, look beyond their immediate needs and circumstances. She would see them and hear them and help them, and then, as they declined, they could make their choice.” Upon reading this, I realized that advance requests could be an option. 
 
Our family did not experience this kind and compassionate assistance from the MAID team doctor that assessed Bill. Our family doctor was immensely helpful and supportive but the sessions we had with the second MAID assessor were uncomfortable and impersonable. I understand now that MAID assessors and providers need to make sure the patient understands the process and finality of the procedure, and we were dealing with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. However, training for MAID clinicians is imperative, especially in follow-up for families that are traumatically left to endure and grieve the sudden loss of their loved one. We did not even receive a phone call as a support.** In The Last Doctor, they suggest that, “Done well, MAID is an act of comfort and love.” Another reason why advanced request would help ease the trauma and shock. 
 
I lay beside my husband, our three sons stood holding each other, and Bill’s brother was silently watching, as Bill was given the injections that sent him into a deep sleep. His last words to me were, “Get yourself a kitty!” We all smiled with tears running down our cheeks. I miss him every day and know that our family would have had more time with Bill if only advance requests for MAID were legislated. I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that other families in the near future will have this option available to them. It is needed so desperately. I just wanted him a little longer. 

You can write to your Member of Parliament about your support of advance requests for MAID through Dying With Dignity Canada’s digital letter-writing campaign here

*Note: Bill’s MAID provision occurred before the passage of Bill C-7 in March 2021, which included the waiver of final consent. 

** For more information about support for families who have had a loved one choose MAID, see our blog post on MAID Family Support Society

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