In Case You Missed It: August 2017

In Case You Missed It is a monthly round-up of news articles and commentaries featuring Dying With Dignity Canada speakers and stories. Did you miss these stories in August?

It was with both relief and sorrow that we announced the passing of AB, the Ontario woman whose court action helped to clarify Canada’s assisted dying law. She died with medical assistance in early August.

Dying With Dignity Canada announced AB’s death on behalf of her family in a tribute that appeared on our blog.

A woman of deep faith, she told her loved ones in attendance that she was “going home.” After AB died, her daughter said it was the first time in decades that she had seen her mother in a pain-free state.

The Canadian Press’ Michelle McQuigge wrote about the incredible AB and the far-reaching impacts of her court action in an article that was picked up by CTV News and The Globe and Mail.

In May 2017, Ontario introduced its new medical assistance in dying (MAID) Care Coordination Service. However, many clinicians have spoken up about its shortcomings. 

Dr. Ed Weiss of DWDC’s Physicians Advisory Council shared his thoughts about the service on Healthy Debate, writing that more needs to be done to support patients and clinicians involved in assisted dying.

An Ontario man, Austin Thomas, experienced numerous barriers to access after requesting MAID. His family spoke with Northumberland Today about the ways the hospital actively obstructed Austin’s access to assisted dying.

There was a mixture of reaction from the nurses at the hospital when they heard. “I had one nurse stop me in the hallway and tell me how appalling it was,” his daughter, Debra, said. “I couldn’t believe how people thought how awful we were,” she added, noting one nurse said “you’re killing your dad.”

Austin’s daughter, Debra, shared her father’s story on DWDC’s blog.

My father had been reduced to living inside a body that no longer served him. There was absolutely no quality to his life. He told his family, “You have no idea what it is like to live without hope.” It was difficult to visit him every day and watch his decline and growing despondency. He did his best to be sociable and agreeable for visitors but some days he just was not able to put on that brave face. He was in mental anguish every conscious moment.

In this Toronto Star story, Dr. James Downar of DWDC's Physicians Advisory Council opens up about how he came to support assisted dying.

Downar saw patients suffering in their final hours — situations in which ending their lives seemed to be the greater mercy than keeping them alive and his convictions intact.

Former DWDC CEO Wanda Morris wrote about the vague eligibility requirements for MAID in her National Post column

The legislation introduced a vague, and probably unconstitutional, eligibility requirement of a death that has become “reasonably foreseeable.” The government erred first by, first, restricting the ruling of the Supreme Court and, second, by using such vague language that doctors seeking to provide MAID face unreasonable risks, including possible criminal charges.

Ontario doctor Mike Leckie spoke with the North Bay Nugget about why he provides MAID and why he feels like he’s doing the right thing.

“To be able to assist somebody at that time of their life, when they are suffering and have been told there is nothing more that can be done, is a tremendous privilege,” Dr. Leckie said.

A Dying With Dignity Canada supporter explained in her own words why she chose an assisted death and offered advice to all Canadians planning for end of life:

If I could offer you any advice it would be stop smoking, and never ignore the smallest of changes in your bowel habits.

The Ottawa Hospital is showing strong leadership with their plan to create a coordination service for MAID in the region.

DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool applauded this news and commented on the additional steps the provincial government must take to ensure access and information for patients. She spoke with the Ottawa Citizen:

“We want an integrated system throughout the province. I think this needs to be an initiative at the provincial level,” said Gokool. “Everyone knows death is hard. Why do we have to make it so much more complicated?”

This stunning Maclean’s profile on Dr. Sandy Buchman provides a glimpse into the decision-making process that led him to become involved with MAID, as well as the moving experiences he’s had with his patients over the past year:

“It was so peaceful and loving that I said, ‘This can’t be inconsistent with who I am as a doctor,’” Dr. Buchman said.

Institutional barriers to access continue to be a problem for Canadians requesting MAID. 

Going to court is just one option DWDC is exploring to defend the rights of vulnerable Canadians who have been harmed by public hospitals' bans on medical assistance in dying. CEO Shanaaz Gokool spoke with CBC News about some institutional barriers to access:

“What Ontario did is they gave an opt-out to basic and essential health care to hospitals that don’t want to provide for the dying.”

On August 23, the Canadian Medical Association gathered for its annual meeting. The results of a straw poll conducted during the session found that there is rising support for advance requests.

Here are the results of the informal poll, as outlined by André Picard in his piece for The Globe and Mail:

  • 83 per cent of delegates supported allowing advance requests
  • 67 per cent of delegates supported MAID for mature minors
  • 51 per cent of delegates supported MAID for those whose primary condition is a mental illness

DWDC Physicians Advisory Council member Dr. David Amies expanded on Picard’s piece in his new blog post that examines whether attitudes toward assisted dying are changing.

The legislation introduced a vague, and probably unconstitutional, eligibility requirement of a death that has become “reasonably foreseeable.” The government erred first by, first, restricting the ruling of the Supreme Court and, second, by using such vague language that doctors seeking to provide MAID face unreasonable risks, including possible criminal charges.

Josephine Hopkins’ life and assisted death were beautifully profiled by the Ottawa Citizen:  

“You’ve got to go sometime,” she said that June day. “Do you want to go out when you have control of the situation, to a certain extent, or do you want to wait till you’re nothing?” 

Dr. Paul Preston of North Bay has been a MAID provider since Bill C-14 passed last June. He spoke with Bay Today about his experience:

"The first MAID case I performed was for a lady who was suffering and deteriorating," explained Preston. "She could no longer do anything she valued and did not want more medications or palliative sedation. The day of her passing, she wore her best silk pajamas. Her hair was fixed and she had her makeup on. She got into her bed with her favourite song playing in the background. She said her final farewells, spoke softly about playing with her grandchildren by a brook in the woods, and she went to sleep. It was, by far, the most beautiful death I have witnessed in my 31-year career." 

In early August, DWDC launched the new Voice Your Choice campaign.

Through this campaign, DWDC supporters will be able to share their views on how the current assisted dying framework affects their right to choice. Their stories and input will be added to DWDC’s submission to the Council of Canadian Academies, the organization currently studying the groups who do not have access to MAID.

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