“What we’re seeing is a disturbing number of Canadians who have had access to medical assistance in dying who have never had access to palliative care,” said St. Albert MP Michael Cooper.
St. Albert-Edmonton MP Michael Cooper has been appointed by the Conservative Party leadership to the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying (MAID), a topic he has a lot of experience with.
“I was involved in participating in the relevant committees (of MAiD) at every stage of all the legislative measures that had been taken over the last six years,” Cooper said.
The first meeting of the committee took place on April 8. The committee was set up to review the Criminal Code provisions regarding MAID and its enforcement — outlined in Bill C-7, a bill that received royal assent on March 17, 2021.
The committee will discuss and hear from experts and interested people on issues such as the inclusion of mature minors, advance requests, mental illness, the state of palliative care in Canada and the protection of Canadians with disabilities.
There is no specific number of meetings to be held by the committee and all meetings can be viewed online by the public. A committee report was originally scheduled to be tabled on June 23, but the government’s Motion No. 11, which was being debated in the Canadian Parliament on May 2, would extend the deadline for tabling the committee’s report to the end of October.
“Admittedly, June 23 was an unrealistic timetable. In-depth study could not be undertaken to really delve into complex issues,” Cooper said.
Cooper said two issues have really stuck with him in meetings so far.
The first is that Health Canada does not monitor compliance with the safeguards in place for those who receive MAID.
“Health Canada relies almost entirely on self-reporting from MAID practitioners, so it is woefully inadequate in terms of the accuracy of Health Canada’s data to understand the lay of the land when it comes to MAID. medical assistance in dying in Canada,” he said.
At a committee meeting on April 13, Cooper asked Abby Hoffman, a Health Canada representative, about the follow-up to the noncompliance.
Hoffman said Health Canada tracks that data, but it’s up to the province or territory to maintain oversight and enforcement.
“While we collect data at the federal level on virtually every aspect of the requirements set out in the Criminal Code, and publish that, as you know, the responsibility for effective oversight and enforcement rests primarily with the provinces and territories. Each of them has their own particular methods of achieving this in certain cases,” Hoffman said.
Cooper is also concerned about palliative care and access to that care for people seeking MAID, which was discussed at the April 28 committee meeting.
Data from the second annual report on medical assistance in dying in Canada in 2020 indicates that 14.9% of people did not receive palliative care before accessing MAID.
Palliative care was accessible when needed by 88.5% of those who eventually received MAID.
“What we’re seeing is a disturbing number of Canadians who have had access to medical assistance in dying who have never had access to palliative care,” he said.
Cooper said it should be emphasized that people fall through the cracks.
St. Albert resident Basil Delaney is an advocate for MAID issues. Delaney said he got involved because his mother and other family members died of dementia.
Her mother lived with dementia for 16 years before she died. The past four years have been difficult – she didn’t recognize her family, she couldn’t speak, she barely moved, and she weighed about 80 pounds.
“The only thing she did if you put a spoon on her lip, her mouth opens and you put something in her mouth. And so that’s where I’m coming from,” Delaney said.
Delaney said what he took away from the panelists at the meeting was that hospice services smack of paternalism.
“We know better. Here’s what you should do. Here are the benefits. We can manage your pain — in some cases. The point is that if a person is in pain and palliative care sometimes does not provide the comfort the patient expects, it is their choice to receive something that is literally available to them,” he said.
Delaney thinks that in a town like St. Albert where Covenant House, a Catholic health care organization, controls all hospice beds, there may actually be a problem receiving MAID services.
Covenant House does not participate in or provide medical assistance in dying; however, they will support people in their care who seek more information about the options, according to their website.
Delaney said organizations decide what happens to people at the end of life instead of the person themselves.
“End of life medical needs are a continuum of comfort care to reduce suffering. Palliative care addresses a lot of that. In some cases, individuals like to have their kind of death where it is peaceful, it is pleasant, and family members may be present rather than in an institution.
“Palliative care brings a very narrow view of the importance of patients making their own decisions about the type of treatment they receive at the end of life,” he said.