British Columbia

B.C. doctor talks about providing physician-assisted death

Victoria Doctor Stefanie Green spent much of her career bringing babies into the world. These days, though, she's helping terminally ill patients end their lives.

'It's available, it's legal, it's possible,' says Victoria doctor Stefanie Green

The AHS numbers show the 60 Albertans who have been granted medically assisted deaths since the beginning February came from across the province. They included people who suffer from a range of conditions, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. (CBC)

Victoria doctor Stefanie Green spent much of her career bringing babies into the world. These days, though, she's helping terminally ill patients end their lives.

Green is one of the first doctors in British Columbia to begin providing legal, medical assistance in dying since the federal Bill C-14 became law June 17.

So far, she said, she has carried out three assisted-dying procedures and consulted with about 10 patients in total. Most have had terminal cancer. 

"They have struggled very much in the past years to months, and they've really reached the point where there's not a lot more to offer them from the medical system," Green said in an interview on CBC's On the Island.

She offered a rare insight into the private process that has been the object of heated public debate and courtroom argument for more than two decades.

'Humbling and really quite beautiful'

Green said the patients who have received medical assistance in dying have been close to death.

Dr. Stefanie Green is among the first B.C. physicians providing medically assisted dying for terminally ill patients since it was legalized in June. (Dr. Stefanie Green)

"There is an entire process involved in doing an assessment for whether a person qualifies for medical assistance in dying," she said. "But there comes a time at the end when, specifically, the patient is basically put to sleep."

She said as a physician she feels privileged to be involved.

"The procedures I've been involved in have all had family and friends involved ... who have been with the patient, who have laid hands physically on the patient when this is happening, who have been so supportive and so loving in that moment," Green said.

"It's really been very humbling and really quite beautiful."

Training in Europe

To prepare for their new role, Green and two other Victoria doctors travelled to Europe for training before the new law came into effect.

She said across British Columbia, a core working group of about eight physicians "have been doing the bulk of this work, if not all of it." 

"Between us, I am aware of 30 cases that have proceeded."

Green said she is also happy to help and support other physicians who want to do the same.

"I didn't originally see myself working in the field, but I always felt that if I was in a position to do so I would certainly support it," she said.

"That opportunity came this year and I absolutely jumped in with two feet to be able to provide the service and show patients that it's available. It's available, it's legal, it's possible."

To hear the full story, listen to the audio labelled, "A doctors talks about providing medically assisted death"