UNBC researches implications of doctor-assisted suicide for rural nurses

UNBC's Research Laboratory.UNBC's Research Laboratory.

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. — Two faculty members of the University of Northern B.C.’s School of Nursing are currently researching the implications of physician-assisted death for nurses in rural communities.

Dr. Shannon Freeman, an assistant professor at UNBC’s School of Nursing, recently published an article in BioMed Central that states in the ‘pursuit to provide the highest quality of person centered palliative care, client preferences, needs, and wishes surrounding end of life should be used to inform the plan of care.’

“During a clinical assessment for care services, clients may voluntarily express a wish to die,” says Freeman. “This request may come either directly to the clinician or it may be indirectly reported second-hand to the clinician through a nurse, informal caregiver, or family member.

“Clients who expressed a ‘wish to die’ did not all experience pain, depression, and psychological distress, suggesting an individualized approach to care management be taken,” she added.

In her research, Dr. Freeman describes in depth a multidimensional picture of palliative home care clients who have expressed to their clinician, most often a nurse case manager, that they ‘wish to die now.’

For some of these clients, they exhibited psychological distress, depression, and pain while others showed less physical and cognitive impairment and reported that they had a positive outlook on life and that they had strengths which could be fostered.

Catharine Schiller, a lawyer, nurse and assistant professor in UNBC’s School of Nursing, is also exploring this issue and will be presenting at conferences on the potential implications of the Supreme Court decision for nurses and for the broader healthcare system.

In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that competent adults who are experiencing’ unbearable suffering as the result of a serious, incurable medical condition’ could seek out a physician-assisted death legally.

Minister of Health Terry Lake has said that he will not develop B.C.-specific policies or provincial legislation until the federal government develops its legislation on the matter.

In January, the Supreme Court of Canada decision extended the deadline for the federal government to implement such legislation to June 2016.