It’s been nearly three months since doctor-assisted death was made legal in Canada.
So far, as many as four Albertans a week are choosing to end their lives that way.
Families who didn’t have the choice when they wanted it are surprised the numbers aren’t higher.
Aaron Ramler was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer before physician-assisted death was available in Canada.
Donna-Lynn Ramler, Aaron’s wife, said he knew it was time to go but how he died was not the way he wanted his life to end.
Ramler ended the agony of his terminal brain cancer diagnosis by starving himself.
His family said he was clear that he wanted to die on his own terms but the only legal way he could was nothing short of inhumane.
“It makes me angry we didn’t have this option a year ago,” Donna-Lynn said. “My husband could have chosen the day, a party, he could have said goodbye to family in a dignified way. Instead, we all remembered watching him waste away and die horribly… starving.”
Since it became legal in Canada, 29 Albertans have been permitted physician-assisted death, but almost just as many have been denied.
“We’ve had 23 that have been assessed that have not met criteria under legislation, upwards of 150 requests for information that has created significant demand on our resources,” Dr. James Silvius, from AHS’ medical assistance in dying preparedness program, said.
Other families who’ve been through the journey want the legislation to be even broader.
When Pat Lawrence was ready, it wasn’t legal. Even if it was, he wouldn’t have fit the criteria as it exists. So he travelled for a physician-assisted death.
“There are still many people with similar circumstances who have no other legal choice but to spend a huge amount to die with dignity,” Gillian Lawrence, Pat’s daughter, said.
Pat’s family would have preferred to have him in their lives a lot longer but they said if they had to lose him, at least they had a memorable and profound farewell experience – the way their dad wanted it.
“The day before he died, because my sister asked what he was feeling, he said he was free as a bird,” Gillian said.
Alberta Health Services officials said it has been challenging to find doctors willing to provide this care because it is such an emotional experience.