21 in Saskatchewan choose death with medical assistance

21 in Saskatchewan choose death with medical assistance

For about a year, it has been legal to die with medical assistance in Canada. Almost two dozen people in this province have chosen that option and ended their lives.

"We all want to die with dignity," said Carmen Johnson, medical director of Palliative Care at Pasqua Hospital in Regina.

According to numbers obtained by CBC, as of the end of March, 21 people in Saskatchewan have died with medical assistance since the federal government's assisted-dying law passed last June.

Johnson assisted in some of those cases.  

"I have a passion about helping people during these troubled times in their life. It is very rewarding it is very, very meaningful."

There are strict protocols in place for patients seeking help to die, and one of the key requirements is that there is unbearable pain. That's impossible to measure, said Johnson, and so doctors must listen carefully to each person's story.

"Suffering has so many faces. We have to believe the patient."

People now talking about end-of-life issues 

For the most part, Johnson said, the cases in Saskatchewan have involved incurable cancers in the late stages, where palliative care is no longer easing the symptoms and the pain.  

"We've walked with many people through this process before and we tell them what's happening," she said.

For Johnson, it was heartbreaking to watch people suffer before the option to die with medical assistance became legal in Canada. Now, she said, the narrative has changed and people are speaking more openly about what they want as their condition worsens.

"People are talking about what's really important to them, and end-of-life issues."