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A physician’s view: Medical Assistance in Dying

For Dr. Lianne Yoshida, the decision to provide medical assistance in dying (MAID) was based in her belief that patients facing a serious, irremediable illness must have the right to choose to die.

“I supported the Supreme Court decision and I strongly believe in the relief of pain and suffering when facing death,” says Dr. Yoshida. “People must be given the right to choose what’s right for them, so they may die on their own terms, with dignity and autonomy, and with less fear and anxiety.”

Dr. Yoshida has been a family physician for 17 years, with a practice in downtown Halifax.

“Our medical system is focused on fighting and beating illness, and that’s important when you’re trying to motivate patients to make changes to become healthier,” said Dr. Yoshida. “But when we carry it to the end of life, it’s problematic. Dying is part of living.

“In the end, I believe it’s about people letting go on their own terms. It is not about them giving up.”

Dr. Yoshida believes it’s important for health-care providers to have discussions with patients while they are well, so they can consider these major decisions before their health declines. When the time comes, the patient can choose when to end their life, which makes it possible for loved ones to be at the bedside.

As of December 2016, Dr. Yoshida had helped four patients end their suffering.

“Emotionally, it’s intense – sad but also positive,” she said. “When families have watched their loved one suffer for a long time, both the patients and families have been so grateful and relieved…they’ve already made the hard decision and they are ready. I feel honoured and privileged to provide the service.”

While some people may object to the idea of MAID, Dr. Yoshida said, “Most people will die naturally and unassisted, it’s really important that we keep MAID in perspective.” Assisted deaths represented 3.9 per cent of all deaths in the Netherlands in 2015; Canadian statistics are expected to be similar.

Physicians must be mindful of their patients’ wishes, Dr. Yoshida says. “Don’t make it hard for individuals to achieve their wishes to die on their own terms.”

For more information about Medical Assistance in Dying including some commonly asked questions, visit our blog post, Medical Assistance in Dying: What you need to know.