Calls to DWD Canada offer insight into who may seek assisted dying

With the decriminalization of physician assisted dying less than eight months away, interest in the insights gathered by DWD Canada’s Personal Support and Advocacy Program is growing. 

Each year, DWD Canada fields more than a hundred calls from Canadians wishing to learn more about their options at end of life. The organization has pored over 2.5 years’ worth of records on these inquiries and identified a number of trends in the data.

Though not a representative snapshot of the end-of-life care in this country, DWD Canada’s findings provide valuable information on the demographic profile, questions and concerns of gravely ill Canadians who are looking to die on their own terms.

National Post reporter Sharon Kirkey has written a fascinating article about DWD Canada's findings. She interviewed Nino Sekopet, DWD Canada’s Personal Support and Advocacy coordinator, to put the numbers into context.

The program received 399 calls between Jan. 1, 2013 and May 31, 2015 from people who had questions about their options at end of life. “Their opening, in 90 per cent of the case is, ‘I’m severely ill or ‘I anticipate that in a couple of year my condition will worsen to the degree that I would be interested in living anymore,’ ” Sekopet told the Post.

Using charts to illustrate DWD Canada’s data, the Post has a laid out a demographic profile of people who called the program. More than 50 per cent of the callers are from Ontario, the vast majority are over 60 years old, and slightly more women than men reached out to the organization.

An alarming detail from the data is that most callers reported having a doctor who was not supportive of their quest to discover all their end-of-life options.

“A huge majority (of callers) will say, ‘I cannot even go there with my doctor because I know they have a strong background and they won’t support me,’ ” Sekopet said.

“Patients asking about their end-of-life options sometimes get labeled as depressed (and offered antidepressants), even if they don’t feel depressed.

“Or they will say, ‘My doctor just pretended they didn’t hear me, or they changed the subject.’ ”

You'll find the full article on the National Post's website.

Other key findings:

Nine in 10 callers had asked their family doctor about their end-of-life options, while roughly six in 10 raised the subject with a family member. In 85 per cent of those cases, the clients reported that their families were supportive of their efforts to explore their legal end-of-life choices.

 About 48 per cent of the callers during the study period had a chronic illness or disability, while 37 per cent had received a terminal diagnosis. Chronic illnesses are non-terminal, but nevertheless significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. Examples include neurodegenerative diseases (such as ALS, MS and Parkinson’s), non-terminal cancers and COPD. Stroke victims were also included in the “chronic” category. A patient is typically declared to be terminal when he or she is believed to have six months or less to live.

The provinces that produce the highest volume of calls tend to be the regions where support for DWD Canada is the strongest. B.C., Nova Scotia and Ontario generated the highest per capita rates of requests for support. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are also the regions that, along with Alberta, feature some of DWD Canada’s most active, well-organized chapters.

About the data

Collected between Jan. 1, 2013 and May 31, 2015, the data represent requests to DWD Canada’s Personal Support and Advocacy program from individuals looking to learn more about their legal options at end of life. (Calls related to other aspects of the program were excluded from this report.) 

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