Lifting ban on assisted suicide will impact LTC: administrator

Canada Dementia Strategy LR

Sound government policy, outside support a must, says Maureen King

A landmark ruling by Canada’s Supreme Court lifting the ban on assisted suicide for terminally-ill people could have profound impact on the long-term care sector, says Maureen King, Springdale Country Manor’s administrator.

The court’s unanimous ruling on Feb. 6 affects adults living with conditions producing intolerable physical or psychological suffering that cannot be cured. Once the ban is lifted, people with terminal illnesses must consent to ending their life before any intervention is made.

While other segments of the health-care sector could be impacted by the ruling, long-term care homes have a unique challenge, given the fact that most people living in homes have some form of cognitive impairment, King says.

She says major questions will need to be answered should people with terminal illnesses living in long-term care homes wish to end their life: If a person makes a decision to terminate their life should their suffering become unbearable, are their wishes carried out if they become affected by cognitive impairment that impedes judgement? What if they have dementia and wish to end their life because of intolerable suffering?

The only way to overcome this hurdle will be for homes to work with physicians, social workers and medical ethicists on how to proceed, King says.

“Where is the line? Where is it where they’re suffering and don’t want to live like this? And what about the people who didn’t make the decision before they (had cognitive impairment) and now they have to live with (intolerable suffering)?” she says.

“The work inside the homes is going to be huge – there are a lot of moral and ethical issues. There will be a lot of work needed for this to work in a way that Canadians want it to work.”
Before the ban is lifted, King says the Canadian government will need to look to countries, such as Switzerland, that have already legalized assisted suicide for people with terminal illnesses, to emulate successful policies.

The ban on assisted suicide won’t be lifted for another 12 months, giving Parliament time to draft legislation surrounding the decision.

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