Understanding Medical Assistance in Dying

Dying with Dignity Canada is the national non-profit organization committed to improving quality of dying, protecting end of life rights and helping Canadians avoid unwanted suffering.  DWD defends human rights by advocating  for assisted dying rules that respect the Canadian constitution and the Charter of Rights and freedoms.

DWD as an organization provide personal support to adults suffering greatly from a grievous and irremediable medical condition who wish to die on their own terms.   We also educate Canadians about all of their legal end of life options including the constitutional right to Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) and the importance of advance care planning.

On Feb 6, 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the federal prohibition on physician assisted dying, arguing that the old law violated the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms.  Fourteen months later MP’s in Parliament passed an assisted dying law in response to the Supreme Courts decision.  Bill C-14 formally legalized assisted dying and laid out new rules for how it could be accessed.

To qualify for assisted dying in Canada a persons natural death must be reasonably foreseeable.  This controversial criterion has created confusion for suffering people and clinicians alike.  Some clinicians interpreted the reasonable foreseeable rule to mean that a person must be terminally ill, even though the government specifically stated that isn’t the case.

Who is eligible for MAID in Canada?

  1. You must be eligible for government funded health insurance in Canada.
  2. You must be 18 years of age or older
  3. Have a grievous and irremediable condition, as defined by section 244.2 para 2 of the Criminal Code.
  4. Have made a voluntary request for MAID that was not made as a result of external pressure.
  5. Give informed consent to receive MAID after having been informed of the means that are available to relieve their suffering, including palliative care.

A grievous and irremediable medical condition is classified as:

  1. Having a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability.
  2. Be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability
  3. Endure physical and psychological suffering that is intolerable to them.
  4. Their natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.

In completing the process for MAID the patient is required to have two independent witnesses  witness the signing of the forms.  Many patients do not have access to people not involved in their care  who can act as witnesses.   This is a barrier for many people seeking MAID.  DWD started training volunteers who could sign a persons request for MAID in cases where no other eligible witnesses could be found.  As of July 2018, DWDC volunteers have served as witnesses in a total of 700 cases.

In 2017 a chapter for MAID was started in the Okanagan to address the needs of people in the central interior.  We  provide education and information on the process of MAID  to British Columbians  and act as volunteer witnesses and proxys for those requesting MAID.

Although there are many people who do not qualify for MAID under the current legislation, DWD continues to work toward  more inclusive eligibility criteria for those suffering from severe mental illness and for recognition of  advanced requests .

We encourage everyone to visit Dying With Dignity Canada website to learn more specific details of the current legislation, eligibility and support services.  If you live in the Okanagan and want information about witnessing or have inquires about MAID you can access our Chapter by calling 250-764-9046.

Guest writers: Miriam Tetler – Okanagan Chapter Chair and Carol Taylor – Volunteer Witness Coordinator