NOTE: Firsthand is documentary series that offers one person's perspective on the topic presented. The series presents viewpoints on issues that matter to Canadians.
Road to Mercy follows doctors and their patients as they struggle to identify the limits of the newly granted right to die. In Belgium, we meet bold physicians who are testing those limits – going beyond terminal illness to provide an assisted death for suffering psychiatric patients, a scenario that is legal both in Belgium and under Canada’s recent Supreme Court Carter ruling.
Danielle Lacroix is a 61-year-old mother with liver cancer — whose doctor recently told her she has three months left to live — is now under the care of palliative doctor, Dr. Louis Roy. Dr. Roy is one of the few palliative doctors in Canada who has agreed to provide MAiD (medical assistance in dying). It’s a service Danielle is certain she wants, when the time comes.
Where is Medically-Assisted Dying Legal?
Canada, Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Switzerland, The U.S.A. (California, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington)
Dr. Louis Roy practices at L’Hôpital de L’Enfant Jésus in Quebec City. He used to be opposed to MAiD, but now sees it as something important he can offer his sickest patients as part of a merciful progression to death.
In Quebec, MAiD has become legal two months before anywhere else in the country, because the province pre-empted the Supreme Court by passing end-of-life-care legislation in 2014, which came into effect December 18, 2015. Unlike the unanimous and broad Supreme Court decision, under Quebec law only terminal patients are eligible. Quebec patients wanting MAiD must have an incurable, terminal illness and be in “an advanced state of irreversible decline in capacities.”
"My mother died of liver cancer after a decade of treatments. She suffered greatly in the final weeks of her life and wanted to go sooner." Making Road to Mercy
A Beautiful Death: Meet People Who Choose to Die on Their Own Terms
In Belgium, Amy De Schutter is a 29-year-old professional woman who has been losing her battle with mental illness for more than half her life. After six diagnoses and years of treatment, nothing has helped her psychological pain. She often tries to relieve her suffering through self-harm, cutting. She has attempted suicide more than 10 times. Amy’s remissions are short and make her relapses even more difficult to navigate. She tells her psychiatrist she has lost the will to fight.
Dr. Lieve Thienpont is the psychiatrist overseeing Amy’s euthanasia request, as she meets with a series of mental health professionals in the lengthy approval process to die. Dr. Thienpont will not give her approval to Amy until she is satisfied they have exhausted all treatment options. In the end, Amy will also need the approval of another doctor, before she will have access to a physician-assisted death. With a history of multiple efforts to take her own life the danger of another attempt is always present.
Road to Mercy follows Amy’s journey as she tries to decide if her life is worth living. The camera records her discussions with Dr. Thienpont and her mother as they probe her options: the possibility of life with incurable suffering or death of her own choosing.
Belgium is a country that began its euthanasia history with a law that closely resembles Canada’s Supreme Court Carter decision. Since 2002, the number of cases per year in Belgium has grown quickly in both size and scope — up to five euthanasia deaths per day now, and a new legislative amendment that extends the practice to terminally ill children.
John Tuckwell of Edmonton, Alberta was diagnosed with ALS in 2012, and has been rapidly deteriorating over the last few months. John plans on a doctor-assisted death when his quality of life has deteriorated to a state where he no longer enjoys living – something he finds difficult to pinpoint.
As his disease has progressed John’s goal posts have moved. He’s learned to enjoy life without being able to taste food or talk. He’s learned other ways to communicate and adapted to being dependent on others.
Who is Eligible in Canada?
- They need to be eligible for health services funded by a government in Canada.
- They need to be at least 18 and capable of making decisions regarding their health.
- They need to have a grievous and irremediable medical condition.
- They have made a voluntary request for assistance that was not made as result of external pressure.
- They give informed consent after they have been made aware of means available to relieve their suffering, including palliative care.
Read the act, passed June 17, 2016.
John’s neurologist at the ALS clinic in Edmonton, Dr. Wendy Johnston, respects his desire for physician-assisted death (PAD), but feels she can’t personally offer it. She struggles to balance her professional duty to her patients and her medical code of ethics. The rate of PAD requests among ALS patients is high, but through years of practise Dr. Johnston knows that patients often don’t follow through with MAID.
One of the few people in Canada to publicize his pursuit of a physician-assisted death, John does so because he wants others to know it’s now a choice for Canadians. Despite his exchanges with Dr. Johnston, he’s certain he will choose a physician assisted death when he’s ready.
Road to Mercy documents our country as it enters the farthest ethical frontier — a place where doctors are allowed to take a life and where we as a country must decide on the circumstances under which they can.
Visit the filmmaker's website for more on this issue.