By Gillian Slade on June 8, 2017.
The federal government is expecting a report on medical assistance in dying by December 2018 from several panels it appointed, but Alberta has had its own in place ready to report in September, says Alberta Health Services.
On average, about 12 Albertans each month are seeking MAID as the first-year anniversary approaches of federal legislation allowing it. There have also been 66 people who did not meet the federal government’s criteria with death not being “reasonably foreseeable.” That has been a contentious issue.
The Alberta parallel panels, comprised mainly of clinicians with some legal and ethical experts, will have completed their task by September, and unlike the federal panels will make recommendations for the future, said Dr. Jim Silvius AHS medical director for seniors health and the senior medical director for the Seniors Health Strategic Clinical Network.
“We will share those federally,” said Silvius. “We will see whether that helps to at least inform the direction of some of the conversations that occur over the next while at a federal level.”
The main reason for Alberta establishing its own panels was to be prepared if the Supreme Court of Canada becomes involved in another case related to MAID, said Silvius.
“We didn’t do this to be ahead of anybody but we did it because we wanted to be sure that citizens in Alberta were able to access whatever they needed when it became possible for them to do so,” said Silvius. “Putting the panels together was just an extension of that same thinking.”
It is not clear yet when the findings will be released publicly in Alberta. The MAID program in Alberta has been very transparent with the public, including posting weekly figures and information online.
Silvius is well aware of Albertans who are not in favour of MAID at all. For some individuals it is seen as a choice rather than living life in what they feel is an untenable situation, said Silvius.
Recently, the media reported that a woman with Parkinson’s disease is in extreme pain and cannot tolerate the pain medications that may give relief to some.
One of the court orders just prior to the federal legislation for MAID coming into effect on June 17, 2016, was someone with a chronic pain syndrome unable to get relief with the measures that were acceptable and available to her, said Silvius.
“She ended up receiving a court order in the end,” said Silvius.
While initially Silvius expected the number of MAID cases to average at around three or four a month, he says he is not surprised at the numbers now — 150 cases so far. He is surprised by the interest that has persisted from the media and the public. It has created awareness of the option.
“One of the things that it behooves us as a system is to make sure that the other options are well and truly available and understood by those who make a request for MAID,” said Silvius. “I believe an informed person has a much better decision-making capability.”
AHS does not yet track the number of cases where a patient opts not to use MAID once presented with all available options, but those stats are likely to be available in the future, he said.
There are still some challenges getting physicians in rural areas of the province to participate in MAID. There is an increase in the number of physicians who feel comfortable assisting their own patients but not another doctor’s patient, said Silvius.
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