Patient Rights – Dying with Dignity

Old age is the time of life when your Wild Oats turn into All Bran.

Canada recently passed a milestone of old age. For the first time in history, more Canadians are above the age of 64 than below the age of 16.  And almost half of today’s 65-year-olds will live into their 90’s.

Now, your “golden years” are the “golden decades,” and you could be looking forward to 30 years of retirement. Increasing age, however, raises the risk of spending your last years with a body or mind that is exhausted but kept alive by medical care.

Almost half of Canadians over age 65 will spend time – on average between three and four years – in a nursing home or long term care facility, according to the Council of Aging in Ottawa.

Statistics like these make it essential that you realize you or a close family member will spend a prolonged amount of time under medical care. It’s not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “when.”

As you near the end of life, you need to be confident that the care you get is the care you want. It may not be. Your doctor may believe the death of any patient means he has failed in his job, and so will strive to keep you alive as long as possible; even if that’s not what you want.

Do you want to spend your last weeks, months or years plugged into a respirator or being simultaneously drained and fed by tubes? No? Then you need to know your rights as a patient.

Right to be fully informed of your treatment options. Your doctor is required to tell you the risks and benefits of each option as well as the probabilities of success. It is then up to you to choose what treatment you want.

Right to change doctors. If your doctor is unwilling or uncomfortable discussing your treatment or end-of-life options with you, you have every right to ask for another physician.

Pain and symptom management. You have the right to relieve suffering with as much medication and pain management as needed to keep you comfortable, even if such aggressive treatment may hasten your death.

Right to refuse or discontinue treatment. You have the right to refuse or discontinue any and all treatment, even if the refusal might hasten your death.

Right to refuse nutrition and hydration. Nutrition and hydration by tube is considered medical treatment, so you have the right to refuse or stop this treatment.

Right to refuse resuscitation. “Do Not Resuscitate” means what it says. If you anticipate cardiac arrest and are too old or too sick or too tired to want to live any longer, you have the full right to sign a DNR Order. Your medical team must respect it.

Right to have advance care plans recognized. Healthcare providers and your substitute decision maker are legally bound to follow your directives.

Are your rights being violated?  Speak up, or ask a friend or family member to help you.  Still not working?  You may find it helpful to have a conversation with someone at the hospital, a chaplain, ethicist or patient ombudsperson.  You can also contact Dying With Dignity Canada; a charity that runs a national patient advocacy program to help people whose healthcare rights are not being respected.

John Warren has worked as a Chartered Accountant and a Certified Financial Planner for many years in both Calgary and Lethbridge, Alberta. For the last few years of his career he owned and operated, with a partner, Future Focus Financial Planners Ltd, an independent financial planning company based in Lethbridge.

He was a member of the senate of the University of Lethbridge for six years and has served as a volunteer with Outward Bound, the Canadian Cancer Society, Immigrant Services, Earthwatch and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Alberta.

He is also the Vice President of Dying with Dignity.  For more information about your rights as a patient, visit their website – or call their toll free number 1.800.495.6156.