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Cooper appointed to committee on medical assistance in dying

"What we see is a disturbing number in terms of Canadians who have accessed medical assistance in dying who never did recieve access to palliative care," said St. Albert MP Michael Cooper.
0405 MAiD special committee
St. Albert-Edmonton MP Michael Cooper is shown here at a special joint committee meeting for medical assistance in dying on April 28, 2022. SCREENSHOT/Photo

St. Albert-Edmonton MP Michael Cooper has been appointed by Conservative Party leadership to the special joint committee on medical assistance in dying (MAiD), a subject he has a lot of experience with.

“I have been involved in sitting on the relevant committees (of MAiD) at every stage in terms of all of the legislative steps that had been taken over the last six years,” said Cooper.

The first committee meeting was held on April 8. The committee was put in place to review the provisions of the Criminal Code with regards to MAiD and its application — 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 individuals about such issues as including 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 are available for the public to view online. A report by the committee was initially set to be tabled on June 23, but Government Motion No. 11, which was being debated in Canadian Parliament on May 2, would extend the deadline for the committee to table its report to the end of October.

“Certainly, June 23 was an unrealistic timeline. A thorough study could not be undertaken to really delve into what are complex issues,” said Cooper.

Cooper said two issues have really stood out for him in the meetings so far.

The first is that health Canada is not tracking compliance with the safeguards in place for those who receive MAiD.

“Health Canada is relying almost entirely on self-reporting by MAiD practitioners, so it's completely inadequate in terms of the accuracy of Health Canada data to understand the lay of the land with respect to medical assistance in dying across Canada,” he said.

During an April 13 committee meeting, Cooper asked Abby Hoffman, a representative from Health Canada, about non-compliance tracking.

Hoffman said Health Canada tracks that data, but it is a province's or territory's responsibility to maintain oversight and compliance with the law.

“While we collect the federal level data on virtually every aspect of the requirements that are set out in the Criminal Code, and we publish that, as you know, the responsibility for actual oversight of and compliance with the law is principally the responsibility of provinces and territories. Each of them has their own particular methods of going about this in some cases,” Hoffman said.

Cooper also has concerns surrounding palliative care and the access people who seek MAiD have to that care, which was discussed during the April 28 committee meeting.

Data from the Second Annual Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada in 2020 states 14.9 per cent of people did not receive palliative care prior to accessing MAiD.

Palliative care was accessible if needed by 88.5 per cent of those who ultimately received MAiD.

“What we see is a disturbing number in terms of Canadians who have accessed medical assistance in dying who never did receive access to palliative care,” he said.

Cooper said it needs to be stressed that people are falling through the cracks.

St. Albert resident Basil Delaney is an advocate for issues surrounding MAiD. Delaney said he got involved because his mom and other family members died of dementia.

His mother lived with dementia for 16 years before she died. The last four years were difficult — she did not recognize her family, she could not speak, she hardly moved, and she weighed around 80 pounds.

“The only thing she did if you put a spoon on her lip, her mouth opened, and you put something in her mouth. And so that's where I'm coming from,” Delaney said.

Delaney said what he has picked up from the panelists in the meeting is that palliative care institutions' services smack of paternalism.

“We know best. Here's what you should do. Here's the services. We can manage your pain — in some cases. The thing is, if a person is suffering and palliative care sometimes does not provide comfort to the degree that the patient expects, it's their choice to receive something that is literally available to them,” he said.

Delaney thinks in a city such as St. Albert where Covenant House, a Catholic health-care organization, controls all the palliative care beds, there may actually be an issue in receiving MAiD services.

Covenant House does not participate in or provide medical assistance in dying; however, they will support persons in their care who seek more information regarding options, according to their website.

Delaney said it’s the organizations who decide what happens to people at the end of their lives instead of the person themselves.

“Medical needs at the end of life 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’s enjoyment, and family members can be present rather than in an institution.

“Palliative care brings a very restricted view of the importance of patients making their own decisions about the type of treatment that they receive at the end of life,” he said.

About the Author: Jessica Nelson Local Journalism Initiative

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