We all deserve choice and dignity when end of life is near

Community Comment

It’s too late for my sister-in-law but hopefully not for others who find themselves in the early stages of dementia. As promised the federal government is reviewing who can access medical assistance in dying four years after it was legalized.

The biggest change coming will be broader access and advance requests for MAiD, especially important to those who suffer from diseases like Alzheimer’s. Currently you must be of sound mind to receive MAiD. As our population ages and dementia illnesses increase, the demand for MAiD is real. People suffering from Alzheimer’s want the ability to end their lives after they are unable to make their own decisions. 

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My sister-in-law is in her mid-seventies and is slowly dying of Alzheimer’s in an extended care facility in North Vancouver. She can barely eat, cannot walk, talk or understand where she is or who her family is.

This was her greatest fear. “I do not want to be warehoused,” she told us. When she knew she had a terminal disease, she asked for help but MAiD was in its infancy and she did not qualify.

Her sympathetic doctor told us all the medical team can offer is to make her comfortable for as long as needed. This is cold comfort as we see our beloved slowly slip away, always keenly aware this is something she did not want.

I tell this story with the backdrop of an intense emotional debate happening here in our community. The recently elected board of the Delta Hospice Society has refused to offer MAiD as part of palliative care at the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner. Denying MAiD has put the financial future of our local hospice in jeopardy.

The controversial decision has garnered national attention and ignited a firestorm on local social media as the debate over access to MAiD in public funded facilities is a hot topic. It's hard for those of us who have witnessed family members struggle with terminal illness to imagine restrictions placed on end of life. 

This is a complicated, emotional issue for many of us as MAiD encompasses religious beliefs and raises ethical questions. Death is mysterious yet we are trying to control it, but the consensus is assisted dying is here to stay.

This month more than 250,000 Canadians have responded to a government survey asking for their opinion on the future of MAiD. Clearly we are passionate about medical assistance in dying as public engagement on this issue has surpassed any other federal survey. Yet where MAiD is facilitated is still contentious and access to the procedure comes with its own barriers and stigma.

My hope is the current hospice board will review MAiD and see it as an integral component of palliative care and incorporate it into its values and culture. There is a lot riding on the board’s next move. So many families’ health and welfare depends on our hospice.

To lose our only end-of-life facility because of MAiD would be an inexcusable hardship and a stain on our compassionate community. 

Ingrid Abbott is a freelance broadcaster and writer who will fill out her tax return by April 1 because nothing can be certain, except death and taxes.

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