Doctor-assisted suicide cannot work when people are pressured into it

Health care has to actually function for MAID to be a viable option for whoever wants it

Nearly 45,000 Canadians used Medical in assistance dying (MAID) from its introduction in 2016 to the end of 2022. (Pexels/RDNE Stock project)

Nearly 45,000 Canadians used Medical in assistance dying (MAID) from its introduction in 2016 to the end of 2022. (Pexels/RDNE Stock project)

Medical assistance in dying (MAID) is supposed to be a means of informed choice, a way for terminally and chronically ill patients, of sound mind and with consent, to depart on their own terms. 

It is a last resort when all other options have been exhausted and the patient decides they would rather end the hardships in a dignified manner with the help of a qualified medical practitioner instead of prolonging the physical and emotional suffering for themselves and their loved ones. 

People who opt for MAID are not making an easy decision. When has it ever been easy to stare your loved ones in the eye and tell them your time has come to pass? Never, and anybody who suggests otherwise is wrong, plain and simple.

That is what makes the current controversy surrounding MAID all the more horrendous. Instead of patients facing death with dignity, they are being compelled, by entirely preventable forces, to choose death out of desperation. 

B.C. resident and cancer patient Dan Quayle was driven to that as a result of our healthcare system’s wait-time induced backlog. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and his health declined while waiting for treatment. Quayle opted for MAID rather than receiving treatment when it would likely be too late to make any effective progress. Quayle died on Nov. 24. His family, very understandably, felt that the healthcare system had failed them.

Quayle’s family has not been the only one this has happened to. According to a Health Canada report, the number of medically assisted deaths rose by over 30 per cent in 2022. Critics and advocates are split as to what degree of concern these findings should lead to, but there is one point of agreement — MAID needs a functioning, fully-invested-in healthcare system. This, something B.C. and the rest of Canada, unfortunately, is rather lacking at the moment. 

I have written before about the challenges and failures of B.C. and Canadian public healthcare, so this is a well-visited topic, yet one that has to be repeated just to get the point across. Our healthcare is in dire straits and desperately needs help before the worst case scenario happens, and this is one of the worst possible situations we could find ourselves in.

When treatment is made inaccessible, by price-tag or backlog, such drastic measures become more lucrative since a patient’s condition will very likely deteriorate before preliminary consultations can even begin, just like what happened to Quayle. 

There are plans to expand MAID to those with mental health issues by March 17, and mental health experts have warned that this would not be the right course of action. Mental health resources have the same problems of access that apply to general healthcare and are financially out of reach for many. 

MAID cannot work properly when there are too many barriers and pressures that drive patients to death when treatment ought to be the way to go. When that happens, then the informed choice is implicitly stripped away and replaced with a form of coercion. People afflicted with illness, physical or mental, rarely ever get better by just leaving their conditions be. Without the right aid, desperation sets in and that is how we get to where we are now.

MAID cannot offer death with dignity when indignities are leading patients to death. Funding mental, general, and emergency health services, along with directing them in ways that function without overbearing barriers leaves MAID for those who have little left but their own terms.