In Case You Missed It: June 2018

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 June?

On June 19, Dying With Dignity Canada announced that our organization is set to receive a transformational gift of approximately $7 million from the late Dave Jackson, a long-time supporter and passionate advocate of the cause. You can read more about the gift — and what it means for Canadians — in our press release.

Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) CEO Shanaaz Gokool commented on the impact of this incredible gift, the largest in our organization’s 38-year history:

“Dave cared intensely about building a Canada where we all have real, fair choice in the face of intolerable suffering. By leaving Dying With Dignity Canada this legacy, he has given Canadians an unprecedented opportunity to see our shared vision through.”

The Vancouver Sun also reported on the announcement.

Alberta’s Covenant Health requires patients to leave its buildings to receive medical assistance in dying (MAID) or even to be assessed. Through a Freedom of Information request, DWDC was able to acquire 360 pages of emails, memos, and other communications that provide more insight into this issue. DWDC Communications Officer Cory Ruf spoke to the Edmonton Journal about forced transfers:

“We recognize they have sincere angst about this issue, but at the end of the day, you cannot ban MAID at facilities that care for dying Albertans without subjecting them to unnecessary and sometimes brutal suffering,” he said. “It’s a circle that cannot be squared.”

At a June event organized by our Calgary chapter, assisted dying experts reflected on MAID two years after the passage of legislation. DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool spoke to CBC News:

"We've made progress, but we have a long way to go," Gokool said. "There are people and families and doctors and nurses and pharmacists who don't even know this is allowed, so there is a real issue with education for a lot of different communities. And then putting in the systematic pieces to ensure that people, the most vulnerable, will have access to the help that they need."

Alberta’s Jen Wiles spoke to the Calgary Herald about her dad’s choice to access MAID in February 2017:

“The outcome for our family was positive — it was what he wanted. After his death we felt good, which is a strange thing to say. We did everything with him. We went to the funeral home, we picked up a column burial together, we did all this stuff with him. Through all those months, we came to a place that was really kind of beautiful and we have felt good since. We were able to really grieve ahead of time. He was relieved, we were relieved. We got up the next morning and we felt good.”

Saskatoon’s David Dunn held his wife, Cecilia, as she slowly died by suicide in their apartment. She suffered excruciating pain from fibromyalgia, but was told that she did not qualify for MAID under the current law. David was arrested after the death of his beloved wife and could now face charges. Our CEO Shanaaz Gokool spoke to CBC News about the heartbreaking case.

David and Cecilia’s story was also covered by the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and in a series run by Global News.

You can read Global News’ three-part series here:

Renowned novelist Lawrence Hill wrote a moving piece for The Globe and Mail about how Canada, his mother’s beloved adopted country, failed her. Donna Mae Hill was a lifelong activist who, along with her husband, was a member of Dying With Dignity Canada. She believed in a Canada that respects its people’s right to choice at end of life. Sadly, she was denied her right to a peaceful death at home and had to travel to Switzerland to access that right.

Lawrence spoke to CBC’s Metro Morning host Matt Galloway about this experience. (If you're looking for just the audio, click here.)

DWDC was immensely grateful and honoured to be mentioned in Donna’s stunning obituary in The Globe and Mail.

DWDC Communications Officer Cory Ruf spoke to Bradford Today about how patients are navigating the assisted dying process. He addressed some of the existing barriers to MAID:

“We hear from families who say it’s been very challenging, very difficult to navigate the process. […] (Medical assistance in dying) has come as a great relief for many people. At the same time, we have a lot of work to do to make sure that it is readily available.”

The Government of Canada released its Third Interim Report on Medical Assistance in Dying on June 21.

The report found that, in 2017, about one per cent of all deaths in Canada were medically assisted. Though access to assisted dying appears to be improving, suffering Canadians continue to encounter steep barriers to exercising their right to a peaceful death. DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool spoke to CBC News and The Globe and Mail about the report’s findings.

B.C’s Dr. Eric Haywood-Farmer has assessed 14 individuals and provided MAID for 10 people over the past two years. He shared his views during a panel discussion earlier this month, as reported by Kamloops This Week:

“The feeling in the room when someone dies is a lot like the feeling when a baby is born … it’s something that only happens to you once, and being able to facilitate that and coach families through it so that it’s a more positive experience for them has been really rewarding.” 

North Okanagan, B.C. resident, Shirley Quinn, discussed her plan to access MAID with her local newspaper. After she exercised her choice, her daughter reflected on her death in the Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News:

“Mom smiled at us all gathered around the bed in the hospital with the doctor ready to begin, and said ‘I’m going to be fine. You four go out for dinner afterwards.’ Always looking out for her family,” said MacDonald. “She was the glue that held us together. She wanted to be sure that even without her we would stay close, starting immediately after her death.”

DWDC Physicians Advisory Council member, Dr. Georges L'Espérance, wrote a piece for La Presse about how there is no conflict between palliative care and medical assistance in dying. (This article is in French, but can be translated using Google Translate.)  

DWDC supporter John Wilson wrote a piece for the Ottawa Citizen about why individuals with mental health conditions must be allowed to access MAID.

“Mental pain is real and can be unbearable, some mental illness can’t be adequately treated and – like the rest of us – the mentally ill can at times make critical decisions with competence. Unfortunately, many people appear not to understand that mental pain can be both unbearable and not adequately treatable.”  

Kingston, Ont.’s Monika Slack lived a life of exceptions and made a final one when she hosted a party to celebrate her own death. The story of her choice and final days appeared in The Kingston Whig-Standard.

Her plans for it were simple: an injection before falling asleep, with her friends around her and her favourite blues playing in the background. She chose the first day of summer because it was the solstice -- she considered it ‘significant for the Earth.’ ‘It just felt right,’ she said.”

As assisted dying debates continue in the United Kingdom, opponents of end-of-life choice have publicly expressed fears that a law would be used to “get rid” of vulnerable people. In response, contributors wrote thoughtful letters to The Guardian to dispel this myth and explain why an assisted dying law is really about choice.

“Assisted dying legislation is about giving people choice and control at the end of life. This is what disabled people campaign for in every other aspect of life. Why would they not also wish for it at the end?”

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