My thanks to My Death, My Decision for posting this article on their Facebook page. Ian Wood
Dr Sandy Buchman, President-elect of the Canadian Medical Association addressed a UK Parliamentary group. December 11, 2018
“I see assisted dying as one more tool in the service of palliative care’s core mission of alleviating suffering” – Dr Sandy Buchman, Canada.
As a palliative care specialist, Dr Buchman acknowledged that his personal journey towards accepting assisted dying had spanned over two years. He stressed that it was his belief high quality palliative care was key to good end of life planning, but that assisted dying did not threaten the provision of such care, but somewhat perversely strengthened the case for ensuring that palliative care was accessible and available.
Closing on a personal example, Dr Buchman explained that whilst he was initially hesitant about the prospect of assisted dying, he ultimately decided that helping patients who wanted to decide when and how they died, was an extension of what he had been doing already: helping to relieve suffering.
Dr Buchman explained that when he first participated in an assisted death, for a professor of medicine suffering from Lewy body dementia, he had been struck by the sense of “illumination”, as though “a weight had been lifted”, when he agreed to discuss the prospect of an assisted death, let alone participate. He explained that whereas before his patient had explained he felt hopeless, especially after exhausting the options of traditional palliative care, the option of an assisted death enabled the patient’s mood to lift, and allowed him the dignity to die from a peaceful death surrounded by those he loved.
Ian Wood comments: I frequently read how the option of assisted dying, once the patient has been accepted, is palliative in its own right and a tremendous morale booster for that dying person.
Dr Sandy Buchman, the President-elect of Canada’s Medical Association, who was joined by his Vice-President Dr Jeff Blackmer, discussed the role doctors had played in shaping Canada’s decision to legalise assisted dying in 2016. Professor Sir John Temple, the previous President of the British Medical Association (BMA), spoke about his concerns regarding the representation of doctors views.
“Medical organisations must engage with the debate with evidence and honesty and adopt a position that respects patients and professionals’ choices.” – Professor Sir John Temple
Professor Temple suggested that the BMA’s continuing opposition was “troubling”. In particular, he stressed that whilst the BMA has a membership 150,000, only 197 doctors were responsible for its official policy of opposition. Setting aside his democratic concerns, Professor Temple condemned the BMA for failing to reflect the views of doctors, as evident from a recent poll in the British Medical Journal (the BMA’s independent paper), which found 55% of doctors supported a change in the law.
Dr Blackmer, a specialist in disability and palliative care, made the astute observation that whilst he can sympathise with the dismay of many disabled groups, evidence from Canada indicates that those who are most vulnerable tend to be excluded from accessing end of life care, rather than pressured into it. Consequently, he suggested that those who are most vulnerable in society, are often most frightened by the prospect of having no choice at all.
Subsequent to their meeting on Tuesday, Dr Buchman and Dr Blackmer also attended a meeting at the Scottish parliament where they told MSPs: “I’ve learned from clinical experience that sometimes the only way to alleviate a patient’s suffering is to allow them to choose an assisted death. It’s not an easy decision to become a provider of assistance in dying. It took the better part of more than two years to sort through my deepest emotions. Every case is difficult – every single case is a challenge. I never see this as an easy decision. It’s as difficult as you can make in medicine. No-one I know takes it lightly. But I look to medicine to alleviate suffering. Ultimately I have decided that helping eligible patients who wanted choice over the manner and timing of their death was an intention of what I was doing all along – that is relieving suffering. This is a choice that I have made personally, this is a matter of conscience which should unequivocally be respected.”
Ian Wood comments further …..
Two of Canada’s top doctors, Dr Sandy Buchman, palliative care specialist and President-elect of the CMA, together with Dr Blackmer, a disability and palliative care specialist, and CMA Vice-president, have made a strong, compelling case to a UK Parliament committee for the benefits of assisted dying choice. I do hope they can also address the QLD Inquiry when it officially starts in Australia, and the NSW Parliament, when the VAD Bill is re-introduced there.
I urge readers to peruse the full article