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Who Owns Your Life? Medically Assisted Death in Ontario

Euthanasia, assisted suicide, death with dignity. MAID (medical assistance in dying) comes in many forms. If ever you’ve been curious about what it takes to end your life voluntarily in Ontario, read on.

Whose Body Is It? The Sue Rodrigeuz Story

Canadian women have been testing the boundaries of assisted death since Thornhill resident Sue Rodrigeuz launched her legal challenge in 1991. Rodrigeuz was 39 when she developed Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). ALS causes patients to lose their ability to walk, speak, swallow, breathe and move. Her lawsuit, filed with the aid of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, questioned who owned her body and right to end her life. Nine months after she narrowly lost her appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), Rodrigeuz died by assisted suicide in February 1994.

Qualifying for Medical Assistance in Dying

Since then, Canadians have continued to push for the right to decide when they die. The SCC reversed course in June 2106 by agreeing that preventing medically assisted death violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Today, Ontarians 18 or older and eligible for Canadian health services may qualify for MAID if they:

  • are mentally capable of making health decisions
  • have a grievous medical condition 
  • have no chance of recovering and there is no remedy
  • were not pressured or influenced 
  • and consented to MAID after being informed of their medical diagnosis, treatments and other options, such as palliative care.

How Sick is Sick?

Choosing death is not easy. But when you have a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability that cannot be reversed and are in declining health, MAID may be preferable. That’s especially so if you expect to die anyway as a result of your medical condition. Most physicians are compassionate if you suffer unbearable physical or psychological suffering you cannot relieve in a way you find acceptable. 

Safeguarding Your Legal Rights

Naturally, doctors are cautious about agreeing to MAID. You must make a written request and be medically assessed by two licensed medical doctors or registered nurse practitioners. Unless you do not have long to live or could become incapable of giving informed consent, you will wait at least 10 days for your appointment with death. Whether you opt for clinician-assisted death such as by injection or self-administered MAID by taking the substance yourself, you must be given a chance to withdraw your request immediately beforehand. The medical professional assisting you must ensure you give your express consent.

Choosing MAID Over Palliative Care

Andrea is 74 and has stage 4 lung cancer and emphysema. A heavy smoker, she has less than a five per cent chance of living five years. Most patients die in eight to 12 months. She could opt for palliative care with chemotherapy to dull the pain and spend her remaining time in a long-term care home. She might even try aggressive treatment to add more years to her life. Since Andrea’s partner is gone and her children and grandchildren are independent, she wants to die on her own terms. MAID allows her to go with dignity, without the physical pain that is making her final days miserable.

Coping with Intolerable Psychological Pain

Remy has long-standing clinical depression. She’s tried every possible anti-depressant, naturopathic remedy and psychotherapy in the past 52 years to lift her desperate, unrelenting despair. Remy is barely getting by from day to day and has attempted suicide three times in the past four years. She understands clinical depression is a brain disorder, not just a down mood she’ll snap out of. Remy is tired of struggling to survive and wants nothing more than to go in peace. Her psychiatrist is sympathetic.

When Death is Forseeable

Recent court decisions have shed light on cases like Andrea’s and Remy’s. A deeply religious 77-year-old Ontario senior (known as “AB” for privacy reasons) died in fall 2017 surrounded by family after a court agreed her natural death was reasonably forseeable. The court cleared up vague wording around what forseeable means by ruling how long someone has left to live is not the issue. AB’s age, severe osteoarthritis and deteriorating condition all counted towards the court decision. The ruling assists doctors who may be reluctant to consent if a patient is not immediately dying.

Why Forseeable May Be Too Vague

B.C. businesswoman Robyn Morro died at 68 after successfully convincing her doctor excruciating pain from Parkinson’s disease was unbearable. Moro suffered from constant severe leg pain, acute nausea and tremours. She was allergic to most pain medications. The need for death to be forseeable caused her doctor to hesitate. Her family believes the requirement is unfair to people in chronic pain. A public consultation in 2020 is expected to lead to updates to MAID that could eliminate the need to be nearing death to be approved.  

Deciding on MAID 

If you’re like Andrea, making the case for MAID is easier because your natural death is reasonably forseeable. Remy may have more difficulty finding a medical professional to assist her because she is younger and would live a longer life if she had the will to go on. Making that decision is a personal choice between you and your doctor.

Legal Advice on Your Estate Trustee Responsibilities

Axess Law Ontario wills and estate lawyers answer your questions about making a last will and testament if you opt for MAID. Have an online video conference with a licensed lawyer at a day and time of your choice. Dial toll-free to 1-877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto at 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form to make an appointment. In person meetings can be arranged at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.

Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s wills and estates services.

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