Online poll on assisted death only results in uneducated opinions

Editor:

Re: Do you think the Delta Hospice should provide assisted death?, Delta Optimist online poll

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My question is whether polling the public about attitudes of medical assistance in dying (MAiD) in a hospice setting is actually of value?

Death has been a taboo subject, where fear, discomfort and avoidance remain common reactions when one thinks of the process of dying or ceasing to “be.”

Most Canadians lack the knowledge about end-of-life care choices or terminology like hospice or palliative care. Even medical professionals confuse “palliative care” with “end-of-life care,” when in fact palliative care can be appropriate at any stage of a serious illness when active steps are needed to reduce pain and symptoms and improve quality of life. Nor do clinicians always correctly distinguish between “palliative care” and “hospice,” the latter being a model for delivering palliative services. 

Research shows that many people do not know what palliative care is and even more people had never heard about it.

Now medical assistance in dying (MAiD), which was only legalized in 2016, remains a relatively new and sensitive option for death. The procedure of intentionally causing a death with lethal injection brings many unknowns about the impact on physicians, nurses and support staff as well as family members, friends and caregivers.

Clearly, there is a need for conversations about the options available to dying patients and families.  There is a need to improve general awareness, to encourage conversations about health care choices and to provide specific information at the time of need about resources for physical, emotional, spiritual and practical caring at the end of life.

Dying “a good death” is what everyone wishes. Yet dying a natural death or dying by a lethal injection both require specific and different systems to be in place. The resources for either choice differ and both choices require expert professional care to ensure a comfortable and peaceful death. 

Going forward, there is a need for more public education and engagement about end-of-life care.  There is a fundamental need to motivate and facilitate meaningful conversations with family and caregivers about one’s values, goals and preferences of care and determination of who would speak for you if you could not speak for yourself. (https://www.advancecareplanning.ca)

Expecting the public to respond to a public poll about MAiD in a hospice setting seems meaningless. Without understanding what hospice or palliative care is, or what the complexities of the provision of MAiD require, people are giving an uneducated opinion about a debate on how society will deal with death and dying in the future.

Nancy Macey

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