A B.C. woman turned to MAID for peace. Her family says her death was undignified, traumatic

The family and doctor of a Vancouver woman are suing Providence Health Care and the B.C. government over the health authority’s policy against medically-assisted dying in some of its facilities.

Gaye and Jim O’Neill’s daughter, Sam, was diagnosed with cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In a perfect world, she wouldn’t have gotten sick,” Gaye told Global News.

“In a perfect world, she wouldn’t have gotten cancer during COVID, and she would have had a doctor, and the doctors wouldn’t have messed up her pap test, and they wouldn’t have messed up, like, so many things, and she would have had the attention she needed.

“But the world’s not perfect.”

Sam fought until the very end, but cancer ravaged her body.

The 34-year-old chose to say goodbye on her terms and spend her precious final moments surrounded by her family.

“She wanted to live but she was told, ‘You’re terminal, there’s nothing more that we can do for you,’” Gaye said.

Sam chose medical assistance in dying, or MAID.

Samantha O’Neill loved to be outside and loved participating in physical activity.

Submitted by the O'Neill family

Instead, her parents said their daughter’s last hours were filled with trauma and pain.

“It was really, really hard,” her father Jim said. “You watch her writhing and moaning in pain, not conscious and she’s not going to be conscious ever again.”

Gaye said on Sam’s last day on Earth they saw her in her hospital room, sitting up in bed, eating peanut butter.

“We walked into the room and she was sitting on her bed, and she was madly emailing her goodbyes to her friends with one eye closed because she had gone cross-eyed,” she said.

Gaye said her daughter had also broken a vertebra in her back, she had a nephrostomy bag in both of her kidneys and the day before she had undergone procedures for both these issues.

“Both procedures were excruciatingly painful,” she said. “She’d had enough.”

Click to play video: ‘It’s taking so long’: Calls to move forward on advanced consent MAID

Sam had decided to use MAID that day but she had to transfer out of St. Paul’s Hospital where the procedure isn’t offered due to faith-based policies.

She was to be transported to St. John Hospice, also operated by Providence Health Care, where MAID is allowed.

Sam was given sedation medication at the hospital before the transfer as doctors knew the journey would be a painful one for her.

“I guess, you know, they were on a time crunch,” Gaye said. “They had to get her to St. John for her MAID procedure. So, they called us back in, and she was sitting on a commode in a blanket.”

Gaye said they found the fact that their daughter was sitting on a commode to be appalling.

“We were allowed to say a quick goodbye so I said to her, ‘Sam, I’m so sorry this is happening to you’. And she said, ‘Well, it is what it is’.”

That was the last time Gaye and Jim spoke to their daughter.

Sam with her parents Gaye and Jim.

Submitted by the O'Neill family

Along with a local palliative care doctor, Gaye and Jim are taking legal action, claiming Sam did not choose to go to St. Paul’s Hospital, a publicly-funded facility operated by a faith-based organization, which they allege violated several of Sam’s charter rights including freedom of religion and personal security.

“There was nothing accessible about what was done,” Jim said. “(It) was totally undignified. It was horrendous. And it hurts so much thinking about it.”

Sam ended up being sedated multiple times during the transfer and never regained consciousness at St. John Hospice and therefore was not able to provide final consent for MAID prior to the procedure.

Her parents said what ended up being their final goodbyes at St. Paul’s Hospital were rushed and undignified.

“Everything was just cut down to a few minutes and then I got to say goodbye to her on the commode,” Gaye said.

“I did get to tell her that I loved her. And she told me that she loved me but that was really it.”

Providence Health Care reaffirmed to Global News that MAID is not available at its facilities as a Catholic health-care provider but said it does partner with Vancouver Coastal Health.

“If there are issues or concerns with transfers, the two organizations work to improve the transfer processes wherever possible,” the organization said in a statement.

Click to play video: Ottawa hits pause on plans to expand MAID to include mental health

Health Minister Adrian Dix said they are building a hospice care site at the new St. Paul’s Hospital expansion.

“MAID is a legal end-of-life choice,” he said. “In British Columbia, it’s strictly regulated, but it’s a legal end-of-life choice. And it’s our job to ensure that people have access to MAID in our province.”

Sam’s parents say their final precious moments with their daughter were stolen, replaced with memories of their daughter’s undignified death that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

“Every minute, every second, of every day,” Gaye said.

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