INTERVIEW: MLA Dan Williams on end-of-life care in Alberta

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Almost all of us, at one point or another in our lives, will be faced with a difficult conversation surrounding end-of-life care. Whether for ourselves, or a loved one; due to illness, or old age, it is a reality that we as human beings face. The capacity to keep people supported in a comfortable environment surrounded by family as much as possible in their final years, months, days and hours is a vital to an individual’s capacity to die with dignity.

Palliative care serves to support and provide comfort to those dealing with serious illness. It is aimed at reducing suffering and optimizing quality of life. This can include everything from in-home care and medical support, to providing comfort in someone’s final hours.

Euthanasia is often pitched as the “merciful” option for those dealing with end-of-life issues. I firmly disagree with the position that killing an innocent human being is merciful. Having wholistic, compassionate and effective palliative care goes a long way to undermining the oft-echoed arguments in favour of euthanasia. Adequate supports go a long way to dispelling the fears that can be associated with dying.

Even with strong palliative supports, facing death is a daunting concept — but it is clear that COVID-19 restrictions have left many feeling even more vulnerable and isolated than they normally would. We have all heard the heartbreaking stories of people dying in isolation. These stories have rightfully rattled us.

Dan Williams, Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta (MLA) for Peace River, joined me for an interview to discuss palliative care in Alberta. When Dan’s mother was diagnosed with aggressive cancer, doctors suspected she did not have long to live. Dan shared with me how meaningful it was to be by her side and to accompany her until her final rest. He also applauded the palliative efforts that eased her transition.

Dan has relayed his own experience and the knowledge he gained in the field into his efforts to create a guiding document for palliative care in Alberta — which, in addition to new funding, seeks to ensure that adequate supports are in place to provide end-of-life care for all Albertans, including those in marginalized communities. I also asked Dan how these guidelines might ensure that people don’t die in isolation because of COVID-19 restrictions.

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