Lately, there has been a great deal of discussion in the news, in the courts and more recently in parliament, regarding “end-of-life”. Just last week, Manitoba Conservative MP Steven Fletcher tabled a private member’s bill that proposes the enabling of “assisted dying”. Mr. Fletcher, who was left a quadriplegic after a car accident, was interviewed on the radio which I had the opportunity to listen to. It was intriguing to hear about the topic of “assisted dying” from the perspective of someone who at one time found himself caught between death, and a life that was not of his choosing.

You may also recall the Rasouli vs. Sunnybrook case that sparked a national debate about healthcare professionals providing what they deem to be “futile” care. The Supreme Court ruled that doctors could not withdraw life support with without consent from the patient’s family (substitute decision maker).

My intent in raising this issue is not to discuss the relative merits or pitfalls of assisted death, but rather to highlight the essential role that RTs play to ensure that the end of their patient’s life is as dignified as possible. We may or may not have been part of the conversation with the patient and their family about the decision to stop treatment; however, we are often the healthcare professional standing at the bedside withdrawing the life support. There was a commentary in The Globe and Mail last week stating that “often, the dying aren’t afraid of death – but of dying badly”.i Therefore, how an RT interacts with the patient and supports the family at this very difficult time is immensely important.

If we consider the process of dying from the perspective of the patient and their family (many of whom likely have little experience with hospitals or the dying process), it’s easy to understand that what we say is just as important as what we do. Carefully explaining to the patient (regardless of whether we think they can hear us or not) and their family about what is going to happen and what to expect seems like such a little thing. But simple explanations and clear communication go a long way towards easing the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding death – and can make a very big difference.


i Renzetti, E. (2014, March 31). While we hesitate, the terminally ill are denied a peaceful end. The Globe and Mail.

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