Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD): Ten Things Leaders Need to Know

Rosanne Beuthin, Anne Bruce

Nursing Leadership


The provision of MAiD will be in flux for a few years, as legislative challenges are underway. This article addresses what leaders need to know and do to support nurses today and in the future regarding care of patients choosing MAiD. Drawing on complexity leadership theory and research into nurses’ experiences in caring for persons choosing MAiD, we share 10 simple yet foundational things a leader must know. Underpinning our key messages are current evidence and familiar nursing concepts such as end-of-life care, death trajectories, conscientious objection, scope of practice, ethics, sense-making and care cultures. These key messages are embedded in a framework of leadership practices where attention to inter-relationships, emergence and innovation are highlighted. They provide nurse leaders with concrete actions to inspire a team dynamic for creating inclusive cultures of quality care. Leadership is needed across healthcare settings where MAiD is being enacted.

Beuthin R, Bruce A. Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD): Ten Things Leaders Need to Know. Nurs Leadersh (Tor Ont). 2018 Dec;31(4):74-81. doi: 10.12927/cjnl.2019.25753.

Situating requests for medical aid in dying within the broader context of end-of-life care: ethical considerations

Lori Seller, Marie Eve-Bouthillier, Veronique Fraser

Journal of Medical Ethics


Background Medical aid in dying (MAiD) was introduced in Quebec in 2015. Quebec clinical guidelines recommend that MAiD be approached as a last resort when other care options are insufficient; however, the law sets no such requirement. To date, little is known about when and how requests for MAiD are situated in the broader context of decision-making in end-of-life care; the timing of MAiD raises potential ethical issues.

Methods A retrospective chart review of all MAiD requests between December 2015 and June 2017 at two Quebec hospitals and one long-term care centre was conducted to explore the relationship between routine end-of-life care practices and the timing of MAiD requests.

Results Of 80 patients requesting MAiD, 54% (43) received the intervention. The median number of days between the request for MAiD and the patient’s death was 6 days. The majority of palliative care consults (32%) came less than 7 days prior to the MAiD request and in another 25% of cases occurred the day of or after MAiD was requested. 35% of patients had no level of intervention form, or it was documented as 1 or 2 (prolongation of life remains a priority) at the time of the MAiD request and 19% were receiving life-prolonging interventions.

Interpretation We highlight ethical considerations relating to the timing of MAiD requests within the broader context of end-of-life care. Whether or not MAiD is conceptualised as morally distinct from other end-of-life options is likely to influence clinicians’ approach to requests for MAiD as well as the ethical importance of our findings. We suggest that in the wake of the 2015 legislation, requests for MAiD have not always appeared to come after an exploration of other options as professional practice guidelines recommend.

Seller L, Bouthillier M, Fraser V. Situating requests for medical aid in dying within the broader context of end-of-life care: ethical considerations. J Med Ethics. 2019;45:106-111 .

Drawing the line on physician-assisted death

Lynn A. Jansen, Steven Wall, Franklin G. Miller

Journal of Medical Ethics


Drawing the line on physician assistance in physician-assisted death (PAD) continues to be a contentious issue in many legal jurisdictions across the USA, Canada and Europe. PAD is a medical practice that occurs when physicians either prescribe or administer lethal medication to their patients. As more legal jurisdictions establish PAD for at least some class of patients, the question of the proper scope of this practice has become pressing. This paper presents an argument for restricting PAD to the terminally ill that can be accepted by defenders as well as critics of PAD for the terminally ill. The argument appeals to fairness-based paternalism and the social meaning of medical practice. These two considerations interact in various ways, as the paper explains. The right way to think about the social meaning of medical practice bears on fair paternalism as it relates to PAD and vice versa. The paper contends that these considerations have substantial force when directed against proposals to extend PAD to non-terminally ill patients, but considerably less force when directed against PAD for the terminally ill. The paper pays special attention to the case of non-terminally ill patients who suffer from treatment-resistant depression, as these patients present a potentially strong case for extending PAD beyond the terminally ill.

Jansen LA, Wall S, Miller FG. Drawing the line on physician-assisted death. J Med Ethics. 2019;45:190-197.

Completion of Medical Certificates of Death after an Assisted Death: An Environmental Scan of Practices

Janine Brown, Lilian Thorpe, Donna Goodridge

Healthcare Policy


Policies and practices have been developed to operationalize assisted dying processes in Canada. This project utilized an environmental scan to determine the spectrum of assisted death reporting practices and medical certificate of death (MCD) completion procedures both nationally and internationally. Findings suggest medically assisted dying (MAiD) is represented on the MCD inconsistently nationally and internationally. Related factors include the specifics of local assisted death legislation and variations in death-reporting legislation, variation in terminology surrounding assisted death and designated oversight agency for assisted dying reporting.

Brown J, Thorpe L, Goodridge D. Completion of Medical Certificates of Death after an Assisted Death: An Environmental Scan of Practices. Healthc Policy. 2018 Nov;14(2):59-67. doi: 10.12927/hcpol.2018.25685.

Of dilemmas and tensions: a qualitative study of palliative care physicians’ positions regarding voluntary active euthanasia in Quebec, Canada

Emmanuelle Bélanger, Anna Towers, David Kenneth Wright, Yuexi Chen, Golda Tradounsky, Mary Ellen Macdonald

Journal of Medical Ethics


Objectives: In 2015, the Province of Quebec, Canada passed a law that allowed voluntary active euthanasia (VAE). Palliative care stakeholders in Canada have been largely opposed to euthanasia, yet there is little research about their views. The research question guiding this study was the following: How do palliative care physicians in Quebec position themselves regarding the practice of VAE in the context of the new provincial legislation?

Methods: We used interpretive description, an inductive methodology to answer research questions about clinical practice. A total of 18 palliative care physicians participated in semistructured interviews at two university-affiliated hospitals in Quebec.

Results: Participants positioned themselves in opposition to euthanasia. Their justifications were framed within their professional commitment to not hasten death, which sat in tension with the value of patients’ autonomy to choose how to die. Participants described VAE as unacceptable if it impeded opportunities to evaluate and alleviate suffering. Further, they contested government rhetoric that positioned VAE as a way to improve end-of-life care. Participants felt that VAE would diminish the potential of palliative care to relieve suffering. Dilemmas were apparent in their narratives, about reconciling respect for patient autonomy with broader palliative care values, and the value of accompanying and not abandoning patients who make requests for VAE while being committed to neither prolonging nor hastening death.

Conclusions: This study provides insight into nuanced positions of experienced palliative care physicians in Quebec and confirms expected tensions between an important stakeholder and the practice of VAE as guided by the new legislation.

Bélanger E, Towers A, Wright DK, Chen Y, Tradounsky G, Macdonald ME. Of dilemmas and tensions: a qualitative study of palliative care physicians’ positions regarding voluntary active euthanasia in Quebec, Canada. J Med Ethics 2019;45:48-53.

Weakening the ethical distinction between euthanasia, palliative opioid use and palliative sedation

Thomas David Riisfeldt

Journal of Medical Ethics


Opioid and sedative use are common ‘active’ practices in the provision of mainstream palliative care services, and are typically distinguished from euthanasia on the basis that they do not shorten survival time. Even supposing that they did, it is often argued that they are justified and distinguished from euthanasia via appeal to Aquinas’ Doctrine of Double Effect. In this essay, I will appraise the empirical evidence regarding opioid/sedative use and survival time, and argue for a position of agnosticism. I will then argue that the Doctrine of Double Effect is a useful ethical tool but is ultimately not a sound ethical principle, and even if it were, it is unclear whether palliative opioid/sedative use satisfy its four criteria. Although this essay does not establish any definitive proofs, it aims to provide reasons to doubt—and therefore weaken—the often-claimed ethical distinction between euthanasia and palliative opioid/sedative use.

Riisfeldt TD. Weakening the ethical distinction between euthanasia, palliative opioid use and palliative sedation. J Med Ethics 2019;45:125-130.

Nurses’ use of conscientious objection and the implications for conscience

Christina Lamb, Marilyn Evans, Yolanad Babenko-Mould, Carol Wong, Ken Kirkwood

Journal of Advanced Nursing


Aims: To explore the meaning of conscience for nurses in the context of conscientious objection (CO) in clinical practice. Design: Interpretive phenomenology was used to guide this study.

Data sources: Data were collected from 2016 ‐ 2017 through one‐on‐one interviews from eight nurses in Ontario. Iterative analysis was conducted consistent with interpretive phenomenology and resulted in thematic findings. Review methods: Iterative, phased analysis using line‐by‐line and sentence highlighting identified key words and phrases. Cumulative summaries of narratives thematic analysis revealed how nurses made meaning of conscience in the context of making a CO.

Impact: This is the first study to explore what conscience means to nurses, as shared by nurses themselves and in the context of CO. Nurse participants expressed that support from leadership, regulatory bodies, and policy for nurses’ conscience rights are indicated to address nurses’ conscience issues in practice settings.

Results: Conscience issues and CO are current, critical issues for nurses. For Canadian nurses this need has been recently heightened by the national legalization of euthanasia, known as Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada. Ethics education, awareness, and respect for nurses’ conscience are needed in Canada and across the profession to support nurses to address their issues of conscience in professional practice.

Conclusion: Ethical meaning emerges for nurses in their lived experiences of encountering serious ethical issues that they need to professionally address, by way of conscience‐based COs.

Lamb C, Evans M, Babenko-Mould Y, Wong C, Kirkwood Ken. Nurses’ use of conscientious objection and the implications for conscience. J Adv Nurs 2018 Oct 16. doi: 10.1111/jan.13869

L’euthanasie au Canada: une mise en garde

Rene Leiva, Margaret M. Cottle, Catherine Ferrier, Sheila Rutledge Harding, Timothy Lau, Terence McQuiston, John F. Scott*

L'euthanasie au Canada: une mise en garde

Nous sommes des médecins canadiens consternés et concernés par les impacts – sur les patients, sur les médecins, sur la pratique médicale – de l’implantation universelle de l’euthanasie dans notre pays, définie comme un « soin de santé » auquel tous les citoyens ont droit (conditionnellement à des critères ambigus et arbitraires). Beaucoup d’entre nous sont si touchés par la difficulté de pratiquer sous ces nouvelles contraintes prescrites que nous pourrions être forcés, pour des raisons d’intégrité et de conscience professionnelle, d’émigrer ou de se retirer complètement de notre pratique. Nous sommes tous profondément inquiets du futur de la médecine au Canada. Nous croyons que ce changement sera non seulement nuisible à la sécurité des patients, mais également à la perception essentielle par le public – et par les médecins eux-mêmes – que nous sommes réellement une profession dédiée seulement à la guérison et au mieux-être. Nous sommes donc très inquiets des tentatives visant à convaincre l’Association Médicale Mondiale (AMM) de modifier sa position qui s’oppose à la participation des médecins à l’euthanasie et au suicide assist . . . . Continuer la lecture dans le World Medical Journal en anglais | Français

Euthanasia in Canada: a Cautionary Tale

Rene Leiva, Margaret M. Cottle, Catherine Ferrier, Sheila Rutledge Harding, Timothy Lau, Terence McQuiston, John F. Scott*

World Medical Journal

We are Canadian physicians who are dismayed and concerned by the impact  – on patients, on doctors, on medical practice – of the universal implementation, in our country, of euthanasia defined as medical “care” to which all citizens are entitled (subject to the satisfaction of ambiguous and arbitrary qualifying criteria). Many of us feel so strongly about the difficulty of practicing under newly prescribed constraints that we may be forced, for reasons of personal integrity and professional conscience, to emigrate or to withdraw from practice altogether. All of us are deeply worried about the future of medicine in Canada. We believe this transformation will not only be detrimental to patient safety, but also damaging to that all-important perception by the public  – and by physicians themselves – that we are truly a profession dedicated to healing alone. Thus, we are alarmed by attempts to convince the World Medical Association (WMA) to change its policies against physician participation in euthanasia and assisted suicide. . .

Leiva R, Cottle MM, Ferrier C, Harding SR, Lau T, Scott JF. Euthanasia in Canada: A Cautionary Tale. WMJ 2018 Sep [cited 2020 Jan 14]; 64:3 17-23.

Medical Assistance in Dying at a paediatric hospital

Carey DeMichelis, Randi Zlotnik Shaul, Adam Rapoport

Journal of Medical Ethics


This article explores the ethical challenges of providing Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) in a paediatric setting. More specifically, we focus on the theoretical questions that came to light when we were asked to develop a policy for responding to MAID requests at our tertiary paediatric institution. We illuminate a central point of conceptual confusion about the nature of MAID that emerges at the level of practice, and explore the various entailments for clinicians and patients that would flow from different understandings. Finally, we consider the ethical challenges of building policy on what is still an extremely controversial social practice. While MAID is currently available to capable patients in Canada who are 18 years or older—a small but important subsection of the population our hospital serves—we write our policy with an eye to the near future when capable young people may gain access to MAID. We propose that an opportunity exists for MAID-providing institutions to reduce social stigma surrounding this practice, but not without potentially serious consequences for practitioners and institutions themselves. Thus, this paper is intended as a road map through the still-emerging legal and ethical landscape of paediatric MAID. We offer a view of the roads taken and considered along the way, and our justifications for travelling the paths we chose. By providing a record of our in-progress thinking, we hope to stimulate wider discussion about the issues and questions encountered in this work.

DeMichelis C, Zlotnik Shaul R, Rapoport A. Medical Assistance in Dying at a paediatric hospital. J Med Ethics 2019;45:60-67.