Pandemic prompts questions about medically assisted deaths
VANCOUVER -- As Canada grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, some Canadians are wondering what the virus and anticipated overload of the health-care system means for their end-of-life plans.
The not-for-profit organization Dying with Dignity Canada says it is experiencing an increase in calls. CEO Helen Long told CTV News some were concerned they may not be able to access medical assistance in dying programs when needed, while others want to know what their options are if they end up in hospital with the novel coronavirus.
“I think right now really what we're hearing from Canadians overwhelmingly is, how do I plan ahead? What do I do to make sure that my plans are documented and that people understand what I want to happen during the pandemic?”
She advises people to think about their advanced care planning, and make sure family members know what your wishes are. A plan specific to COVID-19 has just been posted to the Dying with Dignity website. While you can’t pre-plan for a medically-assisted death, she said you can make sure what you want to have happen, is known to those who will be making decisions. The condition of COVID-19 patients can deteriorate quickly.
Medically assisted deaths continue to take place across the country, and in Victoria, Dr. Stefanie Green of the Canadian Association of MAiD Assessors and Providers told CTV News enquiries were being made at about the same level or higher during the pandemic.
At this point, the service continues, with precautions in place to make sure practitioners aren’t getting sick with COVID-19.
“I might usually hold someone’s hand, but now I wear gloves," Green said.
Those going through with the service in long-term care homes are more isolated than usual, she added, because there are fewer visitors. The use of virtual assessments and witnessing is now allowed in B.C., meaning there’s even less opportunity for the personal touch.
“It feels very, very odd. Considering what we're trying to accomplish to establish a comfortable and dignified life.”
There are homes that continue to reject MAiD on religious grounds. Dr. Green said the practice of transporting patients to hospitals has stopped during the pandemic, meaning many people may not be able to access the service.
“And there's nowhere now to transfer them for this care so they're quite stuck. And that seems unacceptable," she said.
As a possible solution, some practitioners are asking if Canada needs to move towards oral medications to assist in death. In Canada, there isn’t a lot of experience with it.
“We are in touch with each other and talking about this issue of whether now might be an appropriate time to offer it to or to, to make sure patients are reminded that’s available because there are certain situations where they might be preferred considering the pandemic.”
In Canada, the courts established access to medically assisted deaths as a right. To qualify you must:
- be eligible for health services funded by the federal government, a province or territory
- be at least 18 years old and capable of making health care decisions for yourself
- have a grievous and irremediable medical condition
- make a voluntary request for medical assistance in dying
- give informed consent to receive medical assistance in dying