Access to a death with dignity

Note: The following opinion piece which highlights the lack of availability of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) to patients in Western Renfrew County was submitted by Dr. Lynsay Lane, on behalf of the Renfrew County MAiD Access Committee.

In June 2016, the Parliament of Canada passed federal legislation that allows adults with terminal illnesses and intolerable suffering to choose to end their life with medical assistance. The process involves assessment by two independent health practitioners that deem them competent to make this decision free from coercion. Barriers continue to exist to access Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) that prevent patients and families from accessing a death with the dignity they desire. 

As physicians who work in Renfrew County we practice across a broad spectrum of care including long term and palliative care and acute care medicine. Providing care to patients at the end of their lives is a privilege that we hold dear. The integration of MAiD, for those requesting it, has proved challenging for those admitted to hospitals and some long term care and hospice care settings.

Despite public funding, hospitals affiliated with the Catholic Health Association of Ontario (CHAO) do not allow for MAiD. Hospitals, hospices, and long term care facilities without religious affiliation have also declined patients’ requests for MAiD. This results in patients dying in a way they did not wish or requiring painful and challenging transfers. This occurs at a time when patients and families are vulnerable and grieving. Currently there are no hospitals west of Arnprior in Renfrew County allowing provision of MAiD. When we must explain the facility barriers many patients identify this as a violation of their rights. Unfortunately, dying patients and grieving families are rarely in a position to launch a lengthy legal battle to advocate for their rights to a death with dignity.

Our hope in writing this article is to raise awareness of the institutional barriers that face patients wishing to access MAiD. Our health care is meant to be universal. It should not require travel and transfer of vulnerable patients in search of facilities without religious and moral judgments. We need open and respectful conversations to address these barriers. We would encourage people to write their local elected representative and make inquiries at your local hospitals and health care facilities about their MAiD policies. For additional advocacy resources please visit https://www.dyingwithdignity.ca/.

Dr. Katie Forfar, Dr. Colleen Haney, Dr. Lynsay Lane

Image: Globe and Mail

4 Comments

  1. Nancy Green

    I agree 100 percent with this writer. Maid is a wonderful service. People have a right to die a dignified death the way they want. Religion affiliation hospitals should not be a barrier to this compassionate service!

  2. Barb Cardwell

    This is a huge issue and a complete violation of our rights to be able to access MAiD if that is our choice. Religious beliefs should not be forced on others, especially those who are terminally ill. I for one will be actively advocating to make this end of life option available to us here in Renfrew County – it’s shameful that this LEGAL option is being denied to anyone who qualifies for and chooses it.

  3. Joyce Winfield

    My greatest concern about the legislation permitting MAID, is that, should I become terminally ill, there will not be enough funding for medical assistance in LIVING! We urgently need to focus on the need for widespread provision of excellent palliative care for those who choose to live until death occurs. Or will we one day find that lack of palliative care forces us to seek MAID, thus no longer becoming a problem to society in our need for prolonged care?

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