Saskatchewan’s adviser for medical assistance in dying (MAID) says legislative changes proposed by the federal government could enhance the province’s MAID program.
Since the service became legal in June 2016, there have been 494 requests for MAID in Saskatchewan, according to the province’s health ministry. Of those requests, 250 have resulted in an assisted death.
Legislation tabled Monday in Ottawa is geared toward making assisted death more accessible for people suffering intolerable pain. Dr. Rob Weiler, the medical adviser for Saskatchewan’s MAID program, welcomes the proposed amendments to the assisted dying law.
“The changes that are being proposed actually have the potential to … do a lot of improvements to the existing program,” said Weiler, a clinical anesthesiologist.
Several amendments have been proposed to reduce barriers to MAID — the most significant of which would see the service opened up to those whose death is not imminent, but are still facing intolerable suffering due to an incurable illness.
The bill also drops the number of independent witnesses required for a request for assisted death from two to one.
“That was often a burden and we recognized that for patients,” Weiler said. “We didn’t think it really offered a lot of protection for the vulnerable.”
The legislation could also alleviate a fear common among those who have been approved for MAID, Weiler said.
Federal Justice Minister David Lametti announced the proposal to drop the requirement that people give consent a second time immediately before their death.
He also said people approved for MAID would no longer have to wait 10 days before the procedure. During that reflection period, some patients get too sick to consent to assisted death.
“Some have chosen to end their lives prematurely, sacrificing their chance to spend more time with their families because this was the only way to guarantee that they could still have access to MAID,” Lametti told reporters in Ottawa on Monday.
“No one should be faced with such an impossible choice.”
Weiler said he expects more people will apply for MAID in the wake of the proposed changes. However, he doesn’t anticipate a significant increase in the number of people approved for the service.
“I’m not so sure that it will increase the number of provisions dramatically because it’s still a medical decision that requires people to really feel that this is in the patient’s best interest, as well as the consideration for the impact to others,” he said.
Weiler said there are two main reasons why nearly half of written requests for MAID in Saskatchewan have not resulted in an assisted death.
“Most of those are patients who decide to either wait for a natural death or things have changed for their circumstances and they haven’t actually picked a date and death has arrived some other way,” he said.