Saskatchewan

Medical Assistance in Dying option has been removed from SHA's 811 health-care menu

Anyone who called the Saskatchewan Health Authority 811 health-care line earlier this month had the option of selecting option five on the menu, which would connect them with the Medical Assistance in Dying Program. That is no longer the case.

To some it might imply suicide is an option, mental health minister says

Medical assistance in death (MAID) is available in Canada. Up until recently, residents could be connected with Saskatchewan's MAID program by selecting the fifth option when calling the Saskatchewan Health Authority's 811 health-care line. (BlurryMe/Shutterstock)

Anyone who called the Saskatchewan Health Authority 811 health-care line earlier this month had the option of selecting option five on the menu, which would connect them with the Medical Assistance in Dying Program.

That fifth option is no longer available. 

MAID is one of the options in end-of-life care in Saskatchewan. Online, the province describes the program as "compassionate, patient-centred, family-focused care."

In an emailed statement to the CBC, Everett Hindley, the minister of mental health, said 811 provides 24/7 call-in service for people experiencing mental-health issues.

"It does not make sense to greet people with a message that could potentially imply that suicide is an option," Hindley said.

He confirmed his office directed the Saskatchewan Health Authority to remove the MAID message from Healthline 811. 

When asked what led to the removal, the province said the issue was originally raised by "a mental health and suicide prevention advocate for whom suicide is a deeply personal issue."

Option five on HealthLine 811 is no longer available. But information on MAID can still be found on the Government of Saskatchewan website. (Government of Saskatchewan)

However, the Official Opposition sees the issue differently.

In an emailed statement to the CBC, the NDP said that 811 is a health information service, and it is reasonable for the 811 service to provide information about MAID – "a health-care procedure Saskatchewan people have a right to access."

"Although it is important to be sensitive to the needs of 811 callers who may be at risk of suicide, the government should find a solution to ensure that residents calling 811 seeking information about how to access MAID can find it," said the NDP. 

Bernier sounded the alarm in August

The MAID option removal comes after Maxime Bernier, leader of the People's Party of Canada, took aim at the 811 service in a series of tweets in August, calling it a "death cult."

Bernier found out about the 811 option when a supporter at a rally in Saskatchewan alerted him to it. 

"I was very upset about that," Bernier told the CBC on Friday. 

Bernier says he supports medically-assisted death, and even voted in favour of it as a member of Parliament. However, he does not support provincial governments "promoting it" openly. 

"It must come from the patient or from the families and friends of the patient," he said. "And so it is not the role of the medical personnel to promote that, because when they're doing that, it is viewed, maybe wrongly, like putting pressure on a patient to end his or her life."

Bernier says the federal government should reopen MAID legislation in order to put more restrictions on it: "It must be criminal for a medical personnel to promote that."

Maxime Bernier, leader of the People's Party of Canada, says that while he supports medical assistance in dying, governments should not 'promote' its availability. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

It is not known whether Bernier's calls on the government to remove the 811 option were  connected with its demise. But Bernier said he is thankful to the residents who "put pressure on their government." 

"I'm pleased and a little bit surprised and it's a good thing that the government decided to not offer that option anymore," he said. "For me, that is telling me that we were right about it and the common sense is prevailing."

Bernier says he supports information on MAID being readily available on the Government of Saskatchewan's website. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura is a journalist for CBC Saskatchewan. She is also the community reporter for CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories. Laura previously worked for CBC Vancouver. Some of her former work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, NYLON Magazine, VICE Canada and The Tyee. She holds a master of journalism degree from the University of British Columbia. Follow Laura on Twitter: @MeLaura. Send her news tips at laura.sciarpelletti@cbc.ca

now