British Columbia·Video

Pioneering doctor spoke up for seniors-care reform right up to his medically assisted death at age 98

Dr. Ronald Bayne was one of Canada's first geriatricians and an advocate for seniors throughout his career, right up to until his death through medical assistance in dying. "I shall not go into long term care," he said as his family grappled with his decision.

Dr. Ronald Bayne, one of Canada's first geriatricians, said COVID-19 laid bare flaws in country's care system

Senior advocate Dr. Ronald Bayne receives medically assisted death

3 years ago
Duration 2:45
Featured VideoDr. Ronald Bayne was one of Canada's first geriatricians and an advocate for seniors throughout his career. Thanks in part to his own advocacy, he was able to choose a medically assisted death. He spoke to CBC just hours before he passed.

Just hours before his planned death, Dr. Ronald Bayne shuffled from his bedroom to his living room in Victoria using a walker, each step filled with pain, to reveal more about his long-held passion for seniors' rights and care reform.

At 98 and facing terminal cancer, Bayne — one of Canada's first geriatricians — remained appalled by conditions in long-term care homes. As a physician, professor and advocate for seniors, it was something he had been speaking out against for decades.

In fact, Bayne chose to end his life rather than spend his remaining months alive in a long-term care facility.

"I shall not go into long-term care," he said adamantly in an interview with CBC News at his home on Thursday, the day before he died.

On the eve of his death, Bayne spoke about how COVID-19 has laid bare the serious faults that remain in the care system, referring to the pandemic as his: "I-told-you-so moment."

Problems at long-term care homes

The coronavirus has torn through long-term care homes across the country, killing thousands of residents and exposing lethal weaknesses in the system.

According to national statistics, close to 90 per cent of the almost 22,000 COVID-19 deaths in Canada have been among people aged 70 or older. 

"COVID revealed exactly what I'd been saying all these years," he said. 

Dr. Ronald Bayne, who had terminal cancer, chose to end his life rather than spend his remaining months alive in a long-term care facility. (Submitted by Dr. Ronald Bayne's family)

"And, of course, the politicians are wringing their hands: 'Oh we didn't know anything about it, never heard. Oh, if only we'd known, we'd have done something.' But they knew perfectly well and never did [do anything], because it cost money."  

Following the first wave of the pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the system had failed seniors and said the federal government was committed to helping provinces make improvements.

Bayne is adamant that part of those changes should allow people in the early stages of dementia to specify future conditions for medically assisted death, something not allowed under current laws.

"You're simply denying them what they asked for when they were sensible, so it's just ridiculous." 

WATCH | Facing his own death, Dr. Ronald Bayne explains why so many people are frightened of dying:

Dr. Ronald Bayne speaks about choosing a medically assisted death

3 years ago
Duration 1:08
Featured VideoDr. Ronald Bayne says the ability to receive medical assistance in dying is a crucial option for those who are concerned about the quality of life in long-term care.

Faced with terminal cancer and attendant symptoms — including aching bones, difficulty swallowing and a burning sensation when urinating — Bayne arranged for a doctor to help him with a medically assisted death involving an intravenous injection.

"I'm delighted, looking forward to it."

Respecting his wishes

His daughter, Lillian Bayne, a health policy professor at the University of Victoria, said she understands and respects her father's wishes, but struggles with the thought of him being gone.

"On the one hand we want to keep you with us because we love you so much, and we know you love us and we continue to grow and learn from you all the time, every day," she said.

WATCH | Lillian Bayne speaks to her father about his decision to seek medical assistance in dying:

Lillian Bayne daughter of Dr. Ronald Bayne

3 years ago
Duration 0:59
Featured VideoLillian Bayne speaks to her father Ronald about her family's mixed emotions about his decision to pursue a medically assisted death.

After training at McGill University in Montreal, Bayne began practising medicine in the 1940s, before a publicly funded, single-payer federal health-care system existed in Canada. 

He devoted his career — which spanned Montreal, Boston and the United Kingdom — to caring for older adults and was outspoken in asking governments to improve life for seniors.

"To waste money on these old people who are going to die is not politically attractive," he said. 

Dr. Ronald Bayne, left, received an honorary degree from McMaster University in 2006 for his work raising awareness about geriatric medicine. He's shaking hands with Peter George who was the university president at the time. (Submitted by Dr. Ronald Bayne's family)

Bayne became a professor of medicine in 1970 at McMaster University in Hamilton, about 70 kilometres southwest of Toronto, and stayed there until his retirement in 1989. 

He received an honorary degree from McMaster in 2006 for his work raising awareness of the need for the specialty of geriatric medicine, which was accredited by Canada's Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons only in 1977.

Bayne was passionate about caring for the elderly

"He has envisioned and initiated programs that work to prevent the warehousing of these often marginalized populations," read the citation for the degree.

Along with his passion for medicine and the care of older adults, Bayne lived a life full of adventure, seeking out and telling stories, and embracing a joy of learning with open-mindedness and acceptance. 

Dr. Ronald Bayne and his wife Barbara, who died in 2017, had five daughters. His advice is to enjoy life with those you're closest to. (Submitted by Dr. Ronald Bayne's family)

His wife Barbara, with whom he had five daughters, died in 2017. He had five grandchildren.

Bayne's advice to people over 60 is to figure out how to enjoy life with those closest to them. 

"So they'll have happy memories after you're gone." 

With files from Greg Rasmussen and Chris Corday