[Stockland] Is 'end-of-life' really an option for patients when it is the only one offered?

[Stockland] Is ‘end-of-life’ really an option for patients when it is the only one offered?

Opinion

Ambiguity around Canada’s law has reduced the decision in many cases to the personal judgment of doctors—or to patients with no access to palliative care

Peter Stockland, a former editor-in-chief of the Montreal Gazette, is publisher of Convivium, an online forum for faith-based debate on public policy and social issues.

[Maclean’s] Canadians were asked in 2016 to accept what is now called Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) as standard practice in the health-care system. But as the second anniversary of the federal law sanctioning assisted suicide passes this month, ambiguities embedded in the new regulatory regime are turning end-of-life care into a troubling leap of faith for doctors and patients alike.

VIDEO: [100 Huntley Street] TV Host Lorna Dueck discusses how Canada’s new euthanasia law impacts the mental health of doctors tasked with having to carry out these end-of-life requests on a growing and constant basis.


Even the Collège des Médicins in Quebec, which sped ahead with its own statute in advance of Ottawa’s Bill C-14, has sounded a strong warning note about patients “choosing” medical assistance in dying purely because their preference for palliative care isn’t available.

“End-of-life care cannot be limited simply to medical assistance in dying,” Collége President Dr. Charles Bernard writes in a May 29 recently published letter to provincial Health Minister Gaétan Barrette. “That option makes no sense, from a medical point of view, unless it is part of a robust and complete system of palliative care in Quebec.”

Yet provincial foot-dragging on plans to substantially expand palliative care services is actually denying patients the very choice that was promised in the shift to MAiD, and making it increasingly problematic to discern which patients truly wanted to have a doctor deliberately end their life, Bernard says.

“In certain identified cases, patients, for the lack of (palliative) care, might have had no choice but to ask for medical assistance in dying to end their days ‘in dignity,’ which deeply concerns us,” the Collège president tells the minister.

Worse, he adds, the Collège has been hearing increasing concerns from its member doctors about re-direction of already scarce resources from palliative care to medical assistance in dying, which risks a violation of both the letter and the spirit of Quebec’s law governing end-of-life care.

At the other end of the country in British Columbia, an active proponent of MAiD, acknowledges that she, too, struggled to adapt to the vagueness of the federal law. Dr. Ellen Wiebe says she ultimately concluded she would have to rely on her personal best judgment about whether or not to administer death. Neither the re-written federal legislation, nor provincial regulations that followed it, define with clarity when a patient can receive MAiD, she says.

This article continues at [Maclean’s] Assisted dying was supposed to be an option. To some patients, it looks like the only one

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