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Events · 13th April 2017
Margaret Verschuur
On Monday, April 24, 7:00 – 8:30, Rm #3 QCC Nurse Practitioner Pat Peterson will explain MAiD, share her experiences, and a discussion will follow.

Medical assistance in dying occurs when an authorized doctor or nurse practitioner provides or administers medication that intentionally brings about a person’s death, at that person’s request.

This procedure is only available to eligible patients.
Medical Assistance in Dying, shortened to the acronym “MAiD”, is the term officially used by the Canadian government, and replaces what may have previously been referred to as “physician-assisted death” and “doctor-assisted suicide”. Euthanasia is another word which describes the general practice of ending a life prematurely in order to end pain and suffering.

Until 1972 attempting to take one’s own life, then called suicide, was considered a crime. In Feb 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the law should be amended to allow doctors to help people end their own lives in specific situations. In June 2016 the federal government passed legislation to amend the Criminal Code and bring medical assistance in dying into practice throughout Canada.

Anyone applying for MAiD must be an adult in the health care system that has made the request without external pressure, is of sound mind, knows the other available options, has a grievous and irremediable medical condition, and is experiencing intolerable suffering that cannot be relieved in any other acceptable way. The person must also be able to clearly communicate their consent at the time of the procedure.

To initiate MAiD, the patient makes a request to their doctor, who assesses the medical condition to ensure it fits the criteria. The eligible patient must make the request in writing and sign it in front of two independent witnesses, who also sign the request. Two more independent doctors or nurse practitioners must also confirm the medical condition’s eligibility. Unless there are special circumstances, a period of 10 days for reflection must follow. The patient can change his or her mind and rescind the request at any time and in any manner. The patient must be able to provide consent at the time the medications are administered.

Particular to the province of BC, in addition to the above and to further safeguard the process, more specialized health professionals are involved, and a doctor or nurse practitioner must be present with the person when the medications are administered and remain with the patient until the time of death.

Although MAiD is now legal in Canada, the debate is by no means over. Advocates claim MAiD legislation is too restrictive, while opponents argue that MAiD is not necessary because patients already have the legal right to refuse life-sustaining treatment and the liberty to end their lives in ways that do not involve physicians.

The reasons cited most often by people who choose euthanasia are the desire to control the circumstances of their death, the wish to die at home, and a readiness to die. They may also be concerned about future physical and psychosocial distress. It is interesting to note that most patients who discuss the possibility of physician-assisted death do not access the service. They find comfort in knowing it is available if needed.

MAiD can put doctors in a difficult position. They have come into the profession under oath to preserve life and “do no harm”, and are now asked if they will administer lethal drugs. Some worry that MAiD will replace research and funding for hospice care, since assisting a person to die is less demanding to our medical system than assisting a person to live well to the end of their lives. Others worry this will put pressure on patients to choose death. While some argue that compassion means mercifully hastening death, others see compassion as a way of caring for a person until death.

Who owns my life?” asked Sue Rodriguez in the Supreme Court of Canada in 1993, sparking heated debates that continue to this day. How does a society deal with the personal wishes of an individual when they are in conflict with the values of a society? According to many religions, life is a gift and not ours to take. When a patient has decided their life is intolerable, may others decide, for the good of a society, that there is still value and meaning in it?

With medical advancements being able to keep us alive longer than ever before, this new issue has surfaced. At what point do we not just allow, but actually hasten, death? There are no easy answers. MAiD is Canada’s attempt to find a middle ground in a sensitive issue where there may be no middle ground.