Dying with Dignity (DWD) Canada, a not-for-profit organization, has noted a rise in calls from Canadians inquiring about medical assistance in dying (MAID) since the start of the pandemic.
The individuals calling DWD are largely concerned about the prospect of dying an uncomfortable death from Covid-19. Since MAID is only available to a small group of individuals who meet the rigorous conditions set out in Canada’s assisted dying law, Helen Long, CEO of DWD Canada, urges people to complete an advanced care directive to ensure their end of life wishes are met. Advanced care planning advice, and specifically how it relates to Covid-19, can be found on the Dying with Dignity website.
Other DWD callers express concerns about the difficulty of accessing the healthcare system during the Covid-19 pandemic. These callers worry about whether they will be able to in fact access MAID programs when needed. For example, in March of 2020, some MAID services were shut down in Ottawa and Hamilton to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and to preserve health-care resources. However, other regions have deemed MAID to be an essential service and have implemented safety protocols to ensure adequate protection for clinicians conducting this service.
Some long term care homes reject MAID on religious grounds and, therefore, will not allow the services to be conducted on their property. It is clear that MAID has become increasingly difficult to access for many people.
Currently, Bill C-7 is before the House of Commons. Bill C-7 contains the government’s proposal to expand eligibility for assisted death. One way that the government seeks to do so is by modifying the current stringent requirement of a “reasonably foreseeable death.” Although Bill C-7 would maintain the general notion of a reasonably foreseeable death as a precondition to accessing MAID, it would establish more lenient eligibility requirements for those who are near death. Bill C-7 seeks to make MAID more accessible by alleviating some of the more burdensome conditions that presently need to be met.
Under the current assisted dying regime, 6,465 medically assisted deaths are expected in Canada in 2021. This legislation would enable almost 1200 more medically assisted deaths. These were the numerical predictions expected prior to the pandemic. The exact number of additional requests for MAID due to Covid-19 remains to be seen.
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Suzana Popovic-Montag & Tori Joseph