Volunteering with Dying with Dignity-Canada

The topic of death, dying and end-of-life is not one that many want to delve into, yet in reality it is needed.  “To be born, one must die.” Culture, religion, morals and values will play a part along with one’s upbringing and personal beliefs.  As a professional who works with older adults/seniors, this area is of interest to me.

Before one can engage with clients on the topic of end-of-life, death or dying, one needs to be comfortable with the topic, have thought about it and perhaps have their thoughts in writing, i.e. advance care directives/planning, mandates and power of attorney/living wills.

I recently became a volunteer for an organization that focuses on these issues; Dying with Dignity of Canada.  I was in Toronto a few weeks ago to attend a conference and as I was in town I met with the Executive Director and Membership & Office Coordinator to share my interest and willingness to become a speaker and help out in any way needed.

As the population continues to ‘grey,’ discussions, education, advocacy, and raising awareness of the issues is needed. According to statistics, the prediction is within the next 20 years, over ½ of the population will be in the 65+ demographic with a much smaller youth demographic to support them. More services will be needed, more professionals, and more end-of-life planning.

Dying with Dignity-Canada is a private, non-profit agency that has been around since 1982 and yet I only found them by chance when searching the internet on the topic of end-of-life issues.

There has been much in the news recently that focuses on the topic of Assisted Suicide, end-of-life issues and advance care directives. This includes interviews with individuals who believe in and want to see legislation in place that allows an individual to have some control and choice should they be in a situation where they become incapacitated, have a low to no chance of recovery, are diagnosed with a terminal illness or develop and are diagnosed with a chronic health condition. The choice should be up to the individual, although there are some who will not agree with this.

A few examples of individuals diagnosed with a chronic and degenerative health condition and/or diagnosed with a terminal illness have either left Canada to Switzerland to benefit from Assisted Suicide or Euthanasia and/or have been vocal about Assisted Suicide becoming legal in Canada, Susan Griffiths and Dr. Donald Low.

What are you thoughts?

By Victoria Brewster, MSW


  1. Tough call Vikki; maybe one of the toughest. I think the end of life is intellectual something people are aware of but not emotionally attached to until it becomes closer; be that at any age. Hard for me really to do anything other than remain open to another’s point of view.

    Whose to say that what you wish when you are lucid and alert is necessarily your wishes later when you cannot communicate anymore but have your wits about you?

    1. Kelly,
      In conversations with other professionals, I have come to the conclusion that most are not comfortable broaching the topic of End-of-Life with clients/patients and to me this is unfortunate. The question I would ask is why? Often it is fear or the professionals own personal experience or lack of experience with death.
      Yes, a person’s choices may change over the years and that means just like with a will, a person will need to update their advance care directive. Come the actual time we are approaching death, we may be ready or we may not. What is important to remember is that it is part of the life cycle, ‘To be born, one must die.’
      The idea is to have discussions, to be willing to raise or discuss this topic with family, friends, clients, colleagues and students.


  2. My dad was so very fortunate to have had great presence of mind (and heart) until the very end and he courageously guided us, his family, through his End of Life. I wrote a short book about his passing, as he had encouraged me to do, baring my grief and engaging readers in the events, thoughts and feelings we shared. Those who read it confirm the value of this conversation, and I now work to further that goal with anyone interested.

    Death and dying is not a comfortable topic for most of us Westerners, but I strongly believe it is a worthwhile one. It is possible to prepare and to live in a state of readiness to be-with others who are dying and bereaved. Thank you, Vikki, for your contribution to this much-needed conversation.


    1. Julie,
      I could not agree more with you re: the need for conversations. There are some great videos out there which could be used as a starting point and a few are here on my site under the videos category. Society is a youth worshipping one and this makes it harder as many do not want to admit that they will die one day.

      I am sorry for your loss. I too have been exposed to death with over 7 family members dying both within my own and my extended family over the past 11 years. As a professional it is also difficult to watch your own clients age and deal with chronic health conditions and illness that has led to death.

      More awareness, more education re: advance care directives, wills, mandates and power of attorneys along with advocacy are needed. Death is not sexy which is why people do not talk about it! Like with any other cause or issue, we need a celebrity to take this topic on as their cause!

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