Impact of Medical Assistance in Dying on palliative care: A qualitative study

Palliat Med. 2021 Feb;35(2):447-454. doi: 10.1177/0269216320968517. Epub 2020 Oct 30.


Background: Medical Assistance in Dying comprises interventions that can be provided by medical practitioners to cause death of a person at their request if they meet predefined criteria. In June 2016, Medical Assistance in Dying became legal in Canada, sparking intense debate in the palliative care community.

Aim: This study aims to explore the experience of frontline palliative care providers about the impact of Medical Assistance in Dying on palliative care practice.

Design: Qualitative descriptive design using semi-structured interviews and thematic analysis.

Settings/participants: We interviewed palliative care physicians and nurses who practiced in settings where patients could access Medical Assistance in Dying for at least 6 months before and after its legalization. Purposeful sampling was used to recruit participants with diverse personal views and experiences with assisted death. Conceptual saturation was achieved after interviewing 23 palliative care providers (13 physicians and 10 nurses) in Southern Ontario.

Results: Themes identified included a new dying experience with assisted death; challenges with symptom control; challenges with communication; impact on palliative care providers personally and on their relationships with patients; and consumption of palliative care resources to support assisted death.

Conclusion: Medical Assistance in Dying has had a profound impact on palliative care providers and their practice. Communication training with access to resources for ethical decision-making and a review of legislation may help address new challenges. Further research is needed to understand palliative care provider distress around Medical Assistance in Dying, and additional resources are necessary to support palliative care delivery.

Keywords: Assisted suicide; Medical Assistance in Dying; euthanasia; palliative care; qualitative research; terminal care.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Medical Assistance
  • Ontario
  • Palliative Care
  • Qualitative Research
  • Suicide, Assisted*
  • Terminal Care*