Find an independent witness for medical assistance in dying

Federal law requires a person's assisted dying request to be signed by two independent witnesses. DWDC may be able to connect you with a trained volunteer who can fulfill this requirement.

Important notice regarding DWDC's Witnessing Program:

After much discussion and careful consideration, we have made the very difficult decision to stop all witnessing activities until further notice. We understand and recognize that our witnesses have huge empathy for those they support. However, DWDC takes very seriously the health and safety of our volunteer witnesses, their families, the people we are supporting and their loved ones. Given the public health situation related to COVID-19 and its continuing evolution, we feel this is a necessary action.

We are currently working on some alternative solutions that volunteers can offer to those requiring a witness and will share those as quickly as possible. DWDC staff are now working remotely and will continue to remain available by phone and email. DWDC will continue to monitor this issue closely and will keep you informed as updates become available.

If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact witnessing@dyingwithdignity.ca.

Thank you for your understanding and support,

DWDC Staff


Please note that DWDC's Witnessing Program is doing our best to adapt to the changing circumstances due to COVID-19. Though our in-person witnessing program is suspended, we are managing requests on a case-by-case basis while adhering to public health guidelines and different provincial policies on telewitnessing. Please contact DWDC to see see if telewitnessing is available in your province.

If you need help finding witnesses for a patient who is requesting medical assistance in dying (MAID), or if you would like general information about Dying With Dignity Canada’s (DWDC) Independent Witness Program, please email DWDC’s Debora Aguillon at witnessing@dyingwithdignity.ca or call her toll-free at 1-800-495-6156 ext. 35.

Background

Canadian law states that all patients requesting MAID must put their request in writing. Their formal request must be signed by two independent witnesses. According to Bill C-14:

Any person who is at least 18 years of age and who understands the nature of the request for medical assistance in dying may act as an independent witness, except if they:

(a) know or believe that they are a beneficiary under the will of the person making the request, or a recipient, in any other way, of a financial or other material benefit resulting from that person’s death;
(b) are an owner or operator of any health care facility at which the person making the request is being treated or any facility in which that person resides;
(c) are directly involved in providing health care services to the person making the request; or
(d) directly provide personal care to the person making the request.

In practice, this rule has made it difficult for patients and their clinicians to find independent witnesses. Patients who are suffering badly enough to qualify for MAID are not always in contact with people who aren’t involved in their care. And their medical condition may make it difficult, sometimes impossible, for them to find two eligible witnesses to sign their request. As a result, this rule has caused unreasonable delays for Canadians requesting MAID, subjecting them to continued stress and suffering at their time of greatest vulnerability and need.

In addition, the independent-witness requirement puts Canadians’ right to privacy in healthcare at risk. It exposes people’s private healthcare information to people who are not involved in their care, and who are sometimes complete strangers.

Dying With Dignity Canada’s response

However, as long as this rule is in force, we are happy to support patients and clinicians who are struggling to find independent witnesses. In late 2016, we launched our Independent Witness Program, which was developed with the help of our regional chapters and approved by the DWDC board. Since then, our trained volunteers have served as independent witnesses in more than 700 MAID cases. This program is but one example of how DWDC and its supporters are breaking down barriers facing suffering Canadians who want to access their right to a peaceful death.

Becoming a volunteer witness

Are you interested in becoming an independent witness for MAID requests? If so, please email DWDC Support and Care Navigator Kelsey Goforth at witnessing@dyingwithdignity.ca or call her toll-free at 1-877-389-1251. **We are currently experiencing a high volume of volunteer inquiries, but we will get in touch with you as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience!**