As the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, funeral home owner Paul Needham in London, Ontario received a new type of service request from families.
It was a couple of calls at first, but then as congregation bans and restrictions increased it became a common question at Northview Funeral Chapel: Can you provide a quiet, comfortable space for a loved one to have a medically attended death? can?
“Often families were in a bind,” said Needham. “They wanted the procedure, but had no point of contact. Nobody was willing to accommodate them because of the shutdown.”
Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) has been legal in Canada since 2016.
Since then, the number of MAID deaths has risen steadily. In 2016, just over 1,000 were reported in Canada. In 2020 this number grew to just under 7,600.
Almost half of MAID deaths (46.7 percent in 2020) occur at home, while hospitals (28 percent) and palliative care facilities such as hospices (17 percent) are also common.
However, Needham noted that some clients who did not want to end their lives in a clinical setting also wanted to avoid death at home.
“Sometimes they would say things like, ‘Every time I look at this bed or every time I walk into this room, I would relive it.’ I think they just felt like there was going to be a stigma after that and they wanted to avoid that, “he said.
Other customers expressed their discomfort about going to a hospital or hospice as COVID-19 forced them to deal with all kinds of access restrictions, Needham said.
To meet a growing need, Needham began offering rooms for rent at his funeral home that could accommodate MAID procedures.
Needham has made rooms available for 23 medically assisted deaths since early 2020.
“Family members can be with loved ones,” he said. âI suggest you can do it any way you want, bring your favorite music, bring flowers, bring some food, or bring a bottle of wine if you want. This is that person’s last day on earth to consider and consider as many things as possible. “
Move to add the service
David Mullen, owner of the A. Millard George Funeral Home, has also noticed the trend. He is working to set up a room at his funeral home in Old South where families can have a medically assisted death.
“Calls for the service began in 2018,” he said. âThey continued to increase due to COVID-19. We have put a lot of thought into and felt that this is something we can offer to help the families we serve. “
On the advice of a doctor performing MAID procedures, Mullen transformed a room that was previously used as a showroom for coffins into a comfortable place for end-of-life procedures. He brought a hospital bed and lounge chair, dim lighting, local art, furniture for guests, and a TV monitor that could display family photos. He can provide snacks and a separate sitting area for family members who want to be close, but not by the bed when the last moment comes.
Mullen hopes to have the room ready for customers by the New Year.
Both Mullen and Needham said customers renting the room for a MAID procedure will not be required or pressured to use other services at their funeral home. If they would like the body to be moved to another location for a funeral, burial, or cremation, this can be taken into account.
Darcy Harris is Professor of Thanatology – the study of death and dying – at King’s University College in London, Ontario. Before that, she also worked as a hospice nurse. She says the trend makes sense.
“Funeral homes are usually very nicely set up and the staff are service minded and enjoy talking about death,” she said.
Wish she had the option for her husband
Debbie Pettit works at the A. Millard George Funeral Home and three years ago she needed a place where her husband could get medical care. After a year and a half of palliative home care, her husband did not want to end his life at home or in the hospital.
“It was a sterile environment,” she said. âThe bed had the curtain around it, it really sticks to you. There was a gentleman in the next room who was also waiting to have it done.