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Doctors struggling to cope with assisted death

Ottawa has seen 28 people take their life with the help of a doctor since legislation came into force.

Ottawa has seen 28 people take their lives with the help of a doctor since last year.

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Ottawa has seen 28 people take their lives with the help of a doctor since last year.

Since new legislation came into place last year, 28 people in Ottawa have ended their lives with the help of a physician.

Advocates say the new legislation, which came into force last June, is taking  a toll on some doctors, who are finding it difficult to help patients who want to die.

The 28 patients in Ottawa are as reported to the Ontario Coroner and include both patients who ended their lives in hospital and those who did so at home or in a care facility as of Feb. 3. 

Across the province, 250 people have ended their lives with physician assistance since the law came into place.

Jeff Blackmer, vice-president for medical professionalism at the Canadian Medical Association, said doctors have been telling his group that they struggle with taking part in assisted-death procedures.

He said physicians who have agreed to help a patient they knew well may find it difficult to help subsequent patients.

“They will say, it was just too difficult and too traumatizing physiologically and it is not something I will go through again,” he said. “They really struggle with it, and for some of those that is the only one they will do.”    

Blackmer said some of Canada's physicians are entirely ruling out providing end-of-life assistance to future patients.

“In some provinces where they have a list of providers where they may be willing to participate, I know from speaking to colleagues that some of those lists are getting shorter.”

He said the CMA has not received any reports of doctors being pressured into providing assisted suicide. He said some doctors still feel that easing a patient's suffering at the end of their life is important, but it is still difficult to work through.

“There is no physician practising in Canada today who went into the profession thinking this would be a part of it.”

In an emailed statement, Ottawa Hospital spokesperson Stephen Chang-Fong said they understand that physicians may not be willing to take part in assisted deaths.

“We will be respectful of all health-care providers at the hospital by recognizing their right to conscientiously refuse to participate,” he said.

He said the hospital also provides “resilience training” to staff members who do take part.

“We think it's essential to look after the health and well-being of our staff members — end of life care can be difficult and emotional, so this additional support helps them manage the stress that comes with that.”

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