Toronto woman raising awareness about medical assistance in dying days before she plans to end her life
In a sparsely decorated private room on the 16th floor of Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Violeta Mikaia is anxious to talk about her future.
“I am on the way that I was looking a long, long time ago. I found really very good solution being in condition that I’m diagnosed with cancer, but I always was thinking what to do if I’m in position that I cannot take care of myself,” the 59-year-old explained from her hospital bed.
Mikaia, who is originally from the former soviet republic of Georgia, was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in 2015. She met the criteria to end her life through medical assistance in dying, also known as MAiD, and is planning on ending her life. By law, Mikaia can schedule the so-called “intervention” for Friday or any day after that.
Despite the fact Bill C-14, federal legislation that allows eligible Canadian adults to request medical assistance in dying, was passed in June 2016, Mikaia said she had no idea it was legal. The single woman who has never been married and has no children worked as seamstress for 12 years at TNT, a Toronto clothing store until recently when she became too sick to work.
Mikaia says she went to Mount Sinai Hospital on April 21 because she was in tremendous pain and when she was about to be discharged, she confided in the medical staff that she had been contemplating dying by suicide.
“So when I was hospitalized and they wanted to discharge me again, I said, ‘Do you really want me to do this?’” and … then the guy from palliative department in Mount Sinai came and he explained me that I don’t need this,” she said, referencing the medical assistance in dying law (MAiD) that has been in place for a couple of years.
“You cannot believe how I was happy. I jumped even in my bed. I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ And after, he arranged to transfer me here to Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.”
Mikaia said she’s grateful to the Canadian government for protecting her end-of-life rights and calls it a “thoughtful” law.
She said she’s doing an interview with Global News to raise awareness for those who are suffering like her, and may not be aware that medically assistance in dying is an option.
“I didn’t know at all anything about this,” Mikaia said, adding she was seriously thinking about killing herself in a public place like a park and leaving a suicide note.
“Yeah, because I had no choice. If the hospital doesn’t know what to do with you, and (you) cannot [die by] suicide, you are suffering until (the) end. It’s not right.”
Mikaia said she might feel different if she had children. But she mentioned she had a cousin who was upset about her plans.
“I have cousin who said, ‘Can you prolong?’ I said, ‘Yes I can prolong. Do you really want to me to be in pain and you feel good?’ And she said, ‘No,'” she said.
“If it’s not curable and I’m in pain, [what’s the] sense? There is no sense?”
Dr. Madeline Li, a psychiatrist who leads the MAiD program at the University Health Network (the organization that oversees Princess Margaret Cancer Centre), said she is surprised that Violeta Mikaia was not aware of medical assistance in dying. She said most of the medical community is respectful of what a patient wants, but admitted there are some providers who do not have a lot of comfort in how to have these conversations.
“I get a lot of questions from front line staff about, ‘Am I allowed to raise it? Is it permitted?” Li said.
“It’s a little confusing in the legislation as to whether you are allowed to raise it or not. And it actually says in Bill C-14 that it’s illegal to counsel a patient to [die by] suicide and I think that scares off a lot of people and makes them think I’m not allowed to raise this. The distinction is it’s very clearly defined in Bill C-14 that MAiD is not suicide. MAiD is assisting a death following all the legal requirements and safeguards that are in Bill C-14.”
WATCH: Giving the gift of life after a medically assisted death (March 10)
A Health Canada report released last month on medical assistance in dying in Canada finds that since federal legislation was passed nearly three years ago, at least 6,748 Canadians have received MAiD.
Statistics also showed that MAiD was administered more frequently in larger urban centres (56 per cent) and the proportion of men versus women receiving MAiD is nearly equally divided with only slightly more men (51 per cent) being recipients of MAiD than women (49 per cent). The ages at which the majority of Canadians receive MAiD is between 56 and 90 years old. The average age is 72 years old. MAiD has accounted for approximately 1.12 per cent of the estimated total deaths in Canada.
Meanwhile, Mikaia said she is thankful to her friends at TNT for supporting her during her illness.
The owner of the company, Carrie Richmond, said they are planning to have a funeral for Mikaia after her death.
“She became in some ways almost like a matriarch in the company where at lunch time, people who go up and sit with her and have a conversation with her. She was a very intellectual woman — always wanting to learn, but always about sharing her knowledge,” Richmond said.
“I think she came into our circle to send us a learning lesson and a very strong message of inspiration. As sad as this is, we’re so grateful to have known her.”
Mikaia said she hopes people will donate to Dying with Dignity Canada in her memory. It’s a not-for-profit charity committed to protecting end-of-life rights and helping Canadians avoid unwanted suffering.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.