Time is running out to weigh in on an amendment to Canada’s medically-assisted death legislation.
Online consultation around removing the requirement that natural death be “reasonably foreseeable” from eligibility criteria of the Medical Assistance in Death (MAID) service began earlier this month, and closes this Monday (Jan. 27).
More than 200,000 are reported to have already shared their thoughts, which are being sought following last September’s Superior Court of Quebec ruling that limiting access to those nearing the end of life is unconstitutional.
“We had certainly over the past year… a number of calls, and people stopped me on the streets occasionally talking about it,” Hogg said.
“I know five people, personally, who’ve done it.”
The decision to seek assistance in dying, Hogg acknowledged, is “complex and deeply personal.”
For some, choosing when to die is not an option they’d ever pursue, regardless of their state of health or the criteria in place.
For others, however, including longtime Semiahmoo Peninsula resident Earl Ready – a close friend of Hogg’s – it just made sense.
Diagnosed two years ago with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Ready knew that his life’s path would become progressively more difficult. The disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s, is both incurable and cruel, robbing its sufferers of the ability to walk, talk and eventually, breathe, while leaving their mind virtually unscathed.
Ready, a Semiahmoo Secondary graduate who “everybody loved,” wanted to enjoy whatever time he had left, his partner Joan Black told Peace Arch News. But he also knew he didn’t want to suffer, nor to reach a point where he couldn’t perform the most basic personal tasks for himself.
So it came to be that two months ago, at 1 p.m. on Nov. 22, surrounded by family, with a much-loved song playing in the background and hummingbirds – that for some reason had showed up in greater-than-usual numbers that afternoon – flitting about, Ready gave the word and took the last of the breaths that had become increasingly difficult since his diagnosis.
“He was in his glory,” Black recalled Tuesday.
“He had his song, he said goodbye and he looked at the doctor and said, ‘I’m ready,’” she said. “And that was it.
“He did it his way.”
The 79-year-old’s journey was a distinctly different one for Black to witness than that experienced by her late husband, Don, who died in 2012, eight years after suffering a massive stroke and four years before MAID was implemented in Canada.
“He used to tell me, please… put me out of my misery,” Black said.
The issue of medically assisted death is far from new, brought to the forefront more than two-and-a-half decades ago, by right-to-die activist Sue Rodriguez. An ALS sufferer herself, Rodriguez took her quest to have a doctor help her end her life all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, but ultimately lost the battle in a 5-4 decision. Months later, in February 1994, she took her own life with the help of an anonymous doctor.
Fast-forward 22 years, to June 2016, and federal legislation (Bill C-14) that allowed eligible Canadians, like Ready, to request medical help to die was passed (it came into force in Quebec in December 2015). By the end of that year, 803 medically assisted deaths were reported, according to Health Canada’s first interim report.
By Oct. 31, 2018 – the last date covered by the fourth and final interim report – that number had grown to 6,749, not including approximately seven months’ worth of data from Quebec.
This month’s online consultation comes ahead of a formal review of the legislation’s first five years that is expected to get underway in June, where issues anticipated to be looked at include when medical assistance in death is sought by a minor or someone with a mental illness, as well as advance requests.
Hogg, who was with Ready the night before he died, said the more people that complete the survey, the better – to ensure a balance between the service being both accessible and safe.
Black said she has weighed in and, would “definitely” choose MAID for herself if it ever became a feasible option.
She, too, acknowledged it isn’t a choice that everyone wants.
“I feel very strongly – we both did – about what (Ready) did,” she said. “It’s still very dear to my heart and I still miss him very much. But I’m still happy for him, that he could do it his way.
“We’re at peace with it.”