After nearly one year of legal assisted deaths in Saskatchewan, the province says at least 21 terminally ill people have had a doctor or nurse practicioner help end their lives.
The number covers a period from when the law changed in June 2016 until the end of March 2017.
Beyond that, a lot of information is not available to the public.
Saskatoon Regional Health Authority lawyer Evert van Olst said the region wouldn’t be releasing totals for Saskatoon.
In fact, van Olst is the only member of the Saskatoon team that handles cases who is publicly identified.
He helped craft the health region’s policy on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) and said he may be called in to offer legal advice on a case-by-case basis.
He said other team members may not always be the same but generaly include doctors, nurses, social workers and an expert in medical ethics.
Van Olst said the region’s policy has two parts. First, it ensures compliance with federal law which sets strict guidelines on how, when and why a patient can access help ending their life.
“The person has to be over 18. They have to be mentally competent to be able to make this decision. They have to have a condition that is what the legislation refers to as ‘grievious and irremediable,” he said.
He explained “grievous and irremediable” means a person has to be in a serious state of decline and their natural death is reasonably forseeable.
As far as process, van Olst said the law requires death be caused by a combination of drugs that are either given orally or injected.
Before that can happen, a patient must be made fully aware of the entire range of palliative care options. From there two medical professionals have to sign off, saying all requirements have been met.
Then there is a 10-day waiting period.
While the law leaves the possibility open for a patient to be prescribed the drugs and then administer them themselves, van Olst said Saskatchewan is among several provinces not allowing the option due to safety concerns. Therefore, all medically assisted deaths must be supervised by a doctor or nurse practitioner.
Beyond the requirement of having a medical professional present, van Olst said the second part of the health region’s policy focuses on ensuring the patient is always in charge.
“The patient’s ability to change their mind — to withdraw consent — exists until the very last moment,” he said.
Van Olst said it’s key for the region to make sure MAID team staff also have any supports they need.
“It can be very ethically challenging,” he said.
“It can be emotionally challenging for the people involved. So those are things we’re very mindful of.”