The Current

Doctors frustrated with lack of clarity for medically assisted dying practices in Canada

“When someone is given the permission to go ahead and have an assisted death ... it’s very clear to me that their life is no longer about dying," says Dr. Stephanie Green.
'When someone is given the permission to go ahead and have an assisted death ... it's very clear to me that their life is no longer about dying," says Dr. Stefanie Green, co-founder and president of the Canadian Association of MAiD Assessors and Providers. (CBC News)
Listen23:29

Read Story Transcript

It has been a year and a half since medical assistance in dying (MAiD) became legal in Canada. Since then, at least 2,000 Canadians have died with their doctors' help.

Many physicians who have been involved in the procedure say they're seeing benefits for their patients in their lives as well as their deaths.

"When someone is given the permission to go ahead and have an assisted death ... it's very clear to me that their life is no longer about dying," says Dr. Stefanie Green, co-founder and president of the Canadian Association of MAiD Assessors and Providers.

"They stop focusing on dying and they truly embrace living," she tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

But it hasn't all been smooth-going for doctors involved with MAiD.

In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the ban on medically assisted dying was unconstitutional. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Access to assisted dying isn't consistent across the country, leaving the onus on some doctors to travel widely to perform the procedure.

Doctors have complained that the way they're paid for the procedure has still not been fully sorted out.

"In Nova Scotia, the payment system is completely inadequate," says Dr. Timothy Holland. 

"I am still waiting for my first payment on a medical assistance dying procedure and it has been about a year and a half," he says.

There is a massive degree of oversight on these cases — not that it's inappropriate — but at times you're made to feel that you shouldn't have done it.- Dr. Scott Anderson


Medical assisted law ambiguous

But Dr. Scott Anderson, an emergency and intensive care physician who also provides MAiD in London, Ont., says money is not the biggest obstacle.

"This is not the type of work you do for the compensation," he tells The Current.

Dr. Anderson is more concerned about ambiguity in the law, which he believes could leave doctors vulnerable to criminal liability if a coroner criticizes the management of the case.

"There is a massive degree of oversight on these cases — not that it's inappropriate — but at times you're made to feel that you shouldn't have done it," he says.

Dr. Anderson has even called the coroner's office when he saw ambiguity in a patient's case but has been told they can't provide advice in advance, before the patient's death.

But Dr. Gary Rodin with the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre believes there are advantages to having ambiguity in the law.

"This is not such a bad thing in the sense that it gives room for judgment between the doctor and the patient," Rodin tells The Current.

Faith-based conflict

Dr. Anderson sees another issue with some faith-based hospitals and doctors, who he says have at times been "obstructionist" about helping patients get access to assisted dying if they request it. 

He has himself been accused by another doctor of "murdering" a patient.

But Dr. Anderson says not all people of faith see it this way. 

The second person who came to him to request an assisted death was a Catholic priest, who had been against the procedure, but changed his mind when he was in a position to want assisted dying himself.

"When you find yourself in the very situation where you are dying, sometimes your views change," says Dr. Anderson. 

"He had reckoned and reasoned with it, and he said, 'My God is not going to judge me for asking for assistance in dying. My God is going to judge me for how I conducted myself and my life.'"


Listen to the full discussion above.


This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson.