Medical Assistance in Dying

Medical Assistance in Dying

Death is a medical choice, but not for everyone

Doctors and some patients in B.C. are learning legalization isn’t perfect

A total of 188 people in B.C. have had a doctor assess their medical condition, help plan when and where, and put them to sleep and give them the drugs that will cause them to die – all since medically assisted death was legalized in Canada.

As one man in the Cowichan Valley put it before his wife died earlier this month, it allows for sick people to die with dignity, in the comfort of their home, care home, hospital or hospice.

RELATED: Crofton couple chooses doctor-assisted death

But many people are still being told they can’t be approved for the procedure because of federal restrictions.

To qualify for medically assisted death, a person must be suffering from grievous or incurable illness, able to consent, registered for MSP, and over the age of 18.

But sticking points remain for Bill C14, such as the reasonably foreseeable future clause, which requires doctors to ensure, without a doubt, that the death of a patient is probable.

Generally, physicians have interpreted that to mean that the patient will die in six months.

“We need an improvement,” said Vancouver-based Dr. Ellen Wiebe. “It means (some people) can expect to suffer for years.”

Wiebe has helped 46 people die and is currently assessing 120 more people living in the Lower Mainland.

She said it’s terrible when she has to turn someone away.

A young patient, for example, diagnosed with a painful and inoperable illness, may not be as probable to die in the next six months.

“Every single one of these people are suffering terribly,” Wiebe said. “In each case that I’ve seen, there’s really no hope in recovery of their terrible condition, and that’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve had to do, is say no.”

All she can do is to help them know where they stand and what about their health needs to change for them to become eligible.

BCCLA awaits trial

When it struck down the prohibition on assisted death two years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada recommended that the procedure should be allowed in cases where “the suffering is intolerable from the perspective of the person who is suffering.”

But with Bill C14’s restrictions, the BC Civil Liberties Association launched a legal action, arguing the reasonably foreseeable death clause violates the rights of those who suffer.

“It has to be a question that that person can answer themselves,” BCCLA lawyer Caily DiPuma said.

The lead plaintiff is Chilliwack resident Julia Lamb, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA, type 2.

Law is too broad, but also too exclusive: advocate

Dr. Jonathon Reggler, based in the Comox Valley and co-chair of the physician advisory committee with the group Dying with Dignity, said the bill leaves too much open to interpretation.

“The law uses language that isn’t particularly medical,” Reggler said. “You won’t hear terms like ‘grievous’ or ‘irremediable’ in a medical textbook.”

One physician might approve assisted death for one patient, while another might not allow it, he said, and that could mean a lack of standardized care.

Reggler’s committee is advocating for the law to include patients whose death might not occur within the foreseeable future, but who are still intensely suffering.

In the meantime, physicians have been relying on each other to mull cases over.

“The way it’s happening is those who early on decided to be providers are talking to each other,” he said. “We do turn to the lawyers to some extent, but the lawyers have a very legalistic approach to this, whereas we believe very strongly we should make this very much apart of our ordinary clinical practice, and bring the same thoughts, and skills and experience to it that we do to any part of medical care.”

And time is ticking for those who aren’t eligible, Reggler said, especially when a patient needs to be well enough to provide consent.

To seek more information about medically assistance in dying, visit here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Photo: Sheri Regnier
What you see …

If you have a recent photo to share email it large or actual-size to editor@trailtimes.ca

Back row L-R: Chow John, owner of the Trail Café, his wife Mabel holding their son, Richard Tem Dick Chow; family matriarch Rose Lee holding Penny Chong (née Lee), and her sister Pearl with the bow in her hair. Front row L-R: Helen Pang (married and became Helen Lee, mother of Gordon Lee of Rock Island in downtown Trail), little girl unknown, and Bill Lee (standing). Photo: Trail Historical Society
Trail Blazers; Setting the record straight

Trail Blazers is a weekly historical feature in partnership with the Trail Museum and Archives

Non-profits jumped at a Columbia Basin Trust grant for helping local businesses, including the ‘Gifts for Anglers’ promotion generated by Community Futures’ We-Sport-Fish project.
Community Futures, Trail chamber access Trust’s buy-local campaign

Columbia Basin Trust provides holiday grant to support basin businesses and services

Interior Health has set up a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar doctors and mayor urge residents to take COVID-19 seriously as cases are confirmed in the city

“Your doctors would like you to understand we do now have Covid cases here”

(File)
One death and 82 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

1,981 total cases, 609 are active and those individuals are on isolation

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

Good Samaritan Mountainview Village located at 1540 KLO Road in Kelowna. (Good Samaritan Society)
First long-term care resident dies from COVID-19 in Interior Health

Man in his 80s dies following virus outbreak at Mountainview Village

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

Stock photo courtesy Cliff MacArthur/provincialcourt.bc.ca.
Double-murder trial in case of Cranbrook couple killed adjourned until January

The trial was adjourned following an application from the defence related to COVID-19

Most Read