October 20th, 2019

More than 700 Albertans have died by medical assist

By GILLIAN SLADE on June 16, 2019.

gslade@medicinehatnews.com@MHNGillianSlade

It is three years since federal legislation made medical assistance in dying legal – June 17, 2016.

During this time 709 Albertans have chosen this way to die, according to Alberta Health Services records.

Dr. Jim Silvius, AHS medical director, says it has gone smoothly in large part to the months of preparation in Alberta.

“The biggest issue was knowing whether or not we got it right,” said Silvius. “At one point we had options three, four and five planned out, in case, depending on what happened and much of it we never needed to use … We wanted to get it right from the beginning.”

Silvius says Alberta was unique in the country and the initial work to get it right began in September 2015 with a target date of February 2016. From February to June 17 MAID was only possible with a court order and there were six cases in that category in Alberta.

The latest AHS numbers indicate of the 709 MAID cases in Alberta, since June 17, 2016 there were 79 in the south zone (this region), 253 in Calgary, 65 in the central area, 268 in Edmonton and 44 in the north.

The overwhelming majority of people are still choosing to have MAID in a facility rather than somewhere in the community such as their own home. Of 709 a total of 442 were carried out in a facility and 267 in the community.

The average age was between 68 and 72. The top reasons for seeking MAID was cancer, multiple sclerosis and advanced lung disease.

There have been 132 people who wanted MAID but did not meet the criteria set out in the federal legislation.

Some parts of the province, particularly rural areas with smaller communities still present some challenges in terms of finding enough medical staff willing to be part of the program to provide MAID, said Silvius. In larger communities the pool of medical staff from which to draw is larger than a small community.

“What ends up happening then is people end up having to travel to get access and that’s not the desired outcome,” said Silvius. “We are making concerted efforts to try and improve that situation.”

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