“Martha” was stunned when her 78-year-old father told her he wanted a medically assisted death, after battling lung cancer for almost two years.
“It’s something you’ve never contemplated before in your family,” she said. “How do you prepare for this? This date that somebody’s going to pass away. It’s really hard.”
Martha has asked CBC News to use only her middle name, because children in her family don’t know that their grandfather’s death was medically assisted. A year after Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying law passed on June 17, 2016, the issue remains highly controversial.
But Martha and her sisters supported their father’s decision. His cancer had spread to his brain, and he was starting to fall down and lose the ability to use the bathroom on his own. He had always been proud of being a source of strength to his family and couldn’t bear what he felt was the loss of his dignity.
He had also watched both his parents and his former wife die of cancer, and didn’t want to risk spending his last couple of weeks in “misery,” she said.
Although emotionally painful, the logistical process of receiving medical assistance in dying, or MAiD, was straightforward. Her father was a patient at Toronto’s University Health Network, which has developed a comprehensive process for assessing MAiD requests, and then delivering the service for those who qualify through a dedicated intervention team.
“The team that comes in is incredibly compassionate,” Martha said. “They were extraordinary.”
They gave her father his final injection in March — with his family surrounding him, holding hands.
“He literally [had] a smile on his face,” she said. “He did it exactly his way and on his terms and he had a really beautiful end.”
According to data collected by CBC News, more than 1,300 Canadians had ended their lives with medical assistance as of March 31, and that number has continued to climb. Across the country, cancer is the number one underlying condition cited for medically assisted deaths, followed by neurological disorders, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis.
But for other Canadians, access to medically assisted death, even after they’ve been assessed as eligible to receive it, has not been easy. Some communities don’t have enough physicians, nurse practitioners or pharmacists willing to help someone end their life, either in hospital or at home. Under the law, no health-care practitioner can be compelled to participate in a medically assisted death.
In addition, entire health-care facilities can legally refuse to provide medical assistance in dying, including many faith-based organizations.
“Catholic health organizations do not provide the medical assistance in dying procedure,” said Michael Shea, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada in an email to CBC News. “They respond…