Ninety-seven patients in Alberta have sought medical assistance to end their lives since February 6, 2016, Alberta Health Services data shows. Medical assistance in dying became legal last June but between February and June of 2016, patients could access MAID with a court order.
According to AHS, most patients seeking assistance are suffering from terminal cancer, multiple sclerosis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Medicine Hat resident Collette Brunton ,59, was living with terminal appendix cancer when she made the decision to access MAID.
“She was in bed 23.5 hours a day,” Brunton’s daughter Jessica Hamel recalls. “She couldn’t walk anymore because she was too weak.”
Hamel said her mom was often in unbearable pain and had to take powerful opioids to try and regulate it. The cancer also made it nearly impossible for her to eat and she began to starve.
“When she was first diagnosed she weighed 230 lbs.,” said Hamel. “When she died, I would guess she was probably about 100 lbs.”
Last year, AHS launched a Medical Assistance in Dying Care Coordination Service to help patients apply for aid. Applicants must be considered mentally competent, suffer from a grievous and irremediable medical condition that has made a natural death reasonably foreseeable. AHS says in the past year, 48 applicants have failed to meet the appropriate criteria and were not able to access medical assistance in death.
Brunton’s application was approved and on December 2, 2016, surrounded by her family, the mother and grandmother said her final good-byes.
“It’s kind of like my mom was in a burning building and she was up high and she had a choice,” said Hamel.
“She was either going to die in that burning building or she was going to die jumping. My mom decided to die jumping and I was able to hold her hand.”
Statistics from AHS show the majority of patients accessing medical assistance in death were in the Edmonton zone:
- South zone: 11
- Calgary zone: 29
- Central zone: 9
- Edmonton zone: 42
- North zone: 6
The average age of people receiving the assistance ranged:
- South zone: 65
- Calgary zone: 73
- Central zone: 88
- Edmonton zone: 67
- North zone: 63
Alberta Health Services also says a number of patients had to be transferred in order to receive medical assistance in death because they were originally being treated at a hospital that was not offering medical assistance in death.
- 16 patients were transferred in total
- 13 patients were transferred from faith-based facilities
- three patients were transferred from a non-faith based facility to either a participating facility within AHS or to the patient’s home
With files from Julia Wong (Global News) and Leah Murray (CHAT TV)