According to Northern Health, there have been seven medically assisted deaths within the health authority’s region since the medical procedure became legal across Canada in 2016.
Since June 2016, adults who are suffering intolerably from a serious medical condition and have determined that there is no treatment or service that can address their suffering have been able to request medical assistance in dying.
Andrea Palmer, a spokesperson for Northern Health, said the first step for people who are considering being medically assisted in their death is to speak with their primary care provider – physician or nurse practitioner – about their options.
Northern Health has also hired a care coordinator, Kirsten Thomson, to assist patients, families and physicians through the process. Her responsibilities include supporting patients seeking to gain access to the service.
“She can provide information when patients are pre-contemplative, just wanting to find out more about the option, and what it would look like to proceed,” explained Palmer.
Thomson also provides information to practitioners who are looking to be more informed about the service, or who are responding to questions from their own patients.
“When a decision is made to proceed with medical assistance in dying, she will work with the practitioners, patient, family, pharmacy, nursing, and any other individuals who may be involved to plan for administration.”
When asked how the process works, Palmer said the patient’s written request, using the provincial request form, formally initiates the process.
“Within the legislation, after the request form is completed and signed, there is a mandatory 10-day waiting period before the service can be provided,” explained Palmer. “ During those 10 days, the patient is assessed by two practitioners who will determine whether the eligibility criteria are met.”
Either or both practitioners may ask for a specialized assessment to help them clarify their understanding if there is a concern that the patient might not be competent to make this decision.
“If both agree the criteria are met, the team can then begin planning for administration, which can happen on the eleventh day following the request, or at any time thereafter,” said Palmer.
Patients can opt for an intravenous or oral medication administration; however, Northern Health keeps the medications involved confidential. Patients can also opt if they would prefer to die at home or in a medical facility.
For more information, the Northern Health care coordinator can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 250-645-6417.