An advocate for medical assistance in dying says a 30-day freeze on accepting referrals for MAID will cause additional pain for people seeking the procedure and their families, and won't help solve the backlog of cases.
Sheilia Sperry, the spokesperson for Dying with Dignity's Nova Scotia chapter, said she felt "overwhelming sadness" when she heard about the freeze on referrals.
"Thirty days is just an eternity if you are ill and know you're dying and want to get it over with because you're in either physical or, even worse, psychological pain," she said.
Nova Scotia Health announced late Wednesday afternoon it was placing a 30-day hold on referrals for MAID to allow it to work through a backlog of existing requests. The health authority said the program has seen an increase in demand and is working toward reducing wait times.
There are currently 202 active requests for MAID in Nova Scotia.
"It's this big, grey cloud that's wrapped around you just saying, you know, when's it going to happen? When am I going to get any relief? Why am I still here?" Sperry said of those waiting for MAID.
Strains on health-care system
Sperry said she knows the medical system is overloaded and that health-care workers are doing their utmost to help patients, but she doesn't believe pausing referrals will help.
"It's only going to increase the backlog. It's only going to increase the pain and the suffering.… I don't even really see where it has any positive impact on the overworked health-care system."
James Cowan, a former senator from Nova Scotia who sat on a special joint parliamentary committee on MAID, said the added wait for some people seeking MAID is unfortunate.
"But I think it's understandable that in today's environment with the COVID situation and the strains on our health-care system that not everyone can get the services that they would like to have when they'd like to have them," he said.
"This is not like going in and getting a flu shot. It's a serious business and it takes time. So, I think we have to be understanding of the strains on the system but … I hope that the shortages will be overcome and it'll be business as usual before too long."
Self-administration could reduce wait times
Sperry said wait times for people requesting the procedure could be reduced by making more people aware of the self-administration option for MAID.
Federal legislation allows people approved for MAID to get a prescription for oral medication that "will slowly just slow things down and accomplish the same thing without having any kind of medical practitioner there," Sperry said.
"That would ease some of the pressure on the system.… yet it's not talked about."
The province did not provide information about current wait times for MAID referrals or procedures. A spokesperson for Nova Scotia Health said the wait time is different with each case, and cases are triaged according to the patient's needs, wishes and the severity of their illness and symptoms.
Nova Scotia Health said it is planning to immediately hire a full-time nurse practitioner to support MAID.
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