Last week a report was released by a special committee of MPs and senators on medical assistance in dying (MAID), also known as physician-assisted death (PAD). The report titled “Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centered Approach” is a 70-page report that will serve as the roadmap for future legislation on MAID.
During a meeting with our board of directors, we took some time to evaluate the special committee’s recommendations, and untangle their implications specifically for Canadians affected by multiple sclerosis. Our dedicated board members, most of whom have been personally touched by MS, unanimously agreed that two important points need to be communicated to all levels of our government.
First, we recognize that life with MS can be difficult and that its symptoms can have a profound impact on people living with MS, their families and their caregivers. Above all else, we respect an individual’s autonomy when making decisions about their own health – and we welcome access to as many healthcare options as possible for people living with MS, including the very personal decision to end one’s own life. We applaud the report’s recommendation to render medical assistance in dying an option for people with terminal and non-terminal medical conditions that cause irremediable suffering for the person diagnosed.
We would be remiss, however, if we did not acknowledge another current reality faced by many Canadians living with MS: an inadequate support system of long-term and community care that is specifically designed for people with chronic illnesses such as MS. It is crucial that easy access to these supports exists alongside access to MAID, to ensure that a truly functional system of disability care supports is available across Canada.
We are disappointed with the report’s lack of acknowledgement of the important need for access to a continuum of appropriate, high-quality housing and long-term healthcare supports for people living with severe, yet in most cases non-terminal, illnesses such as MS. While the report does make many recommendations regarding palliative care, mental health, and dementia, the report lacks the same level of recommendations for the improvement of supports required for people with chronic, disabling physical disabilities. As such, we invite the committee to strengthen the report’s recommendations in such a way that would encompass support for people with illnesses of this nature—illnesses that causes grievous suffering for many Canadians.
People living with MS who meet the rigorous eligibility criteria for MAID should not have their suffering unnecessarily extended by a cumbersome administrative process to access this service. The approval (and agreement) of two physicians is a reasonable safeguard to ensure that an individual has met the eligibility requirements. We also understand that MAID requires coordination between all levels of government and their medical regulatory bodies, and we will also be sending letters directly to the provincial Ministers of Health with this feedback.
We urge people living with MS to exercise their rights as Canadians to express their own views on MAID and/or long-term housing and care, no matter what that opinion may be. This is how we can ensure that all of us – everyone with a stake in providing the best quality of life possible for Canadians living with MS – are represented throughout this very complex, essential shift in the way our country provides care to its people.
Note: In Quebec, the Act Respecting End-of-Life Care was passed on June 5, 2014 and sanctioned on June 10, 2014. The provisions of the Act came into force on December 10, 2015.