More consultation, protection needed for physician-assisted deaths
Edmonton man says he would have asked doctors to end his life under new guidelines
Ian Young says 12 years ago he wanted to die.
Young was diagnosed with a brain injury called multifocal leukoencephalopathy in 2004, and says doctors told him he had just three months to live.
He said he would have asked a doctor to end his life sooner if it had been legal at the time.
"I actually did tell my family, 'I feel like a burden. I just want to die'," Young said.
Instead, the Edmonton man outlived doctors' predictions, spending more than a year in intensive care. After leaving the hospital, Young says he learned to live with his disability and is now planning for retirement.
"I'm just beginning to live," Young said. "But when you're made to feel like a burden, it can just pile on top of you and that is a very bad feeling."
When you're made to feel like a burden, it can just pile on top of you and that is a very bad feeling.- Ian Young
Physician-assisted dying will become legal in Canada as of June 6, following a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that struck down a ban on the practice last year.
Each province and territory will set their own guidelines to determine when, how and where the service will be available.
In Alberta, the provincial government is asking the public what it thinks of physician-assisted dying. A survey with questions about safeguards, methods, and consent is open to Albertans until the end of March.
"We really want to make sure that we're hearing form Albertans so that the guidelines we put forward are ones that are reflective of the values of Albertans on this issue," said associate health minister Brandy Payne.
Payne said physician-assisted dying should be available to any competent adult who sees their condition as intolerable.
"How that gets defined is open for interpretation still, and that's a big part of why we really want to move forward with some guidelines, so that physicians have something to work with as they're consulting with their patients," she said.
Another question posed to the public is how to balance access with protections, according to Payne. She said there needs to be room for safeguards in Alberta's regulations to ensure that vulnerable patients are making independent and informed choices.
More safeguards needed
Bev Matthiessen, president of the Alberta Committee of Citizens with Disabilities, said it's crucial to structure physician-assisted dying in a way that doesn't put pressure on patients. She said people with disabilities are most vulnerable.
"We want all these safeguards in there so people who are vulnerable won't fall prey," Matthiessen said.
The survey gives Albertans living with disabilities a valuable opportunity to voice these concerns, she said.
"Definitely that voice needs to be there."
The survey does lay out the various safeguards currently being considered. For instance, two doctors need to agree that someone meets the criteria for a physician-assisted death before the service can be granted.
Young says the current safeguards wouldn't have been enough to stop him from asking for a physician-assisted death. He hopes the province has enough time to increase protections for patients before the June 6 deadline.
"A lot more has to go into this decision because of the vulnerability of people when they are in an acute state," Young said.
"You can dye your hair, then two weeks later you can dye it back, but you take your life, there's no giving it back."