Sick and suffering B.C. residents choosing physician assisted death

Since legislation took effect in June, there have been 62 cases of physician assisted deaths throughout the province.

More than 60 British Columbians have chosen physician assisted deaths since June.

Sick and suffering British Columbians have already started choosing when they will die.

Since legislation took effect in June, there have been 62 cases of physician assisted deaths throughout the province, said Barb McLintock, with the B.C. Coroner’s Service. Figures specific to regions have yet to become available.

Dr. Harsh Hundal, who was speaking with Interior Health board members on assisted dying protocols in Kelowna Tuesday morning, said health practitioners through the region have been fielding an increasing number of inquiries.

“What has happened is that people have been thinking about this but it didn’t seem real until the June 17 legislation passed,” Hundal said.

Now that they’re speaking about it more, it’s becoming less taboo. As an example, Hundal said he overheard one elderly woman telling her friend she was looking into assisted dying options, and the friend responded with a “you go, girl.”

“This is the conversation, ‘how do you want to die?'” he said.

“I’m glad we’re having the discussion.  We need to talk about dying and palliation…(what is chosen) depends on the individual and how they look at their life, or more importantly or how they look at their death.”

Although the topic is becoming less taboo, it’s still  closely monitored and available to only a limited population — people suffering from psychological maladies and those under the age of 18 are still not part of the program, although a task force will be struck in December to examine that more closely.

And those who have been making the request to have a physician help with their end of life options are facing down a potentially horrific death.

“It is generally people who have cancer and people with neurological conditions such as MS or ALS and are seeing a decline in their lives are losing capacity to control their environment,” said Hundal.

And, while the general population is adjusting quickly to the changes in legislation the medical community is a bit slower on the uptake.

Hundal pointed out to board members that most doctors never considered assisted dying when they were going through school or even since they’ve been in practice.

Doing so is a cultural shift.

“It takes time,” he said. “I think in medicine, we tend to be very conservative, it takes us time to work our way through it. Society is ahead of healthcare and people are pushing this change.”

They’ve had lots of places to look to for  an example. But the method used in Canada is most similar to that used in Belgium and the Netherlands, which has more safeguards in place.

That model essentially has more safeguards in place and ensures that a patient is followed by a physician throughout the process.

Once it gets underway, there’s a 10 day “period of reflection” and a person can choose to go back on their decision at any point along the way.

If, however, they lose their  the ability to make that choice along the way, the process grinds to a halt.