A living wake

— Why this Charlottetown man chose to talk about his medically assisted death

Craig Mackie of Charlottetown chose medical assistance in dying in the fall of 2022, and shared his thoughts about it online with family, friends and the public.

Listen to Craig Mackie’s journey in a new Atlantic Voice documentary

By Jessica Doria-Brown

In the weeks leading up to his death, Craig Mackie’s breathing mirrored the short, sharp strokes he was making on his laptop keyboard, documenting his final days.

“At this point in my fading life, I’m struggling to breathe every day,” Mackie said from his kitchen table in Charlottetown, in early October 2022.

A rapid decline due to pulmonary fibrosis had left Mackie, 71, endlessly gasping for air, requiring near-constant support on oxygen. For months, he used his remaining energy to writeat length about his health, drafting dispatches from the confines of his home and sometimes a hospital bed. Then he shared these thoughts publicly, on a blog and through social media.

“The feedback I’ve been getting is that the way I write is — it seems to speak to a lot of people. So I’d like to keep that going,” said Mackie.

The writing continued as he looked into the possibility of a medically assisted death, determined not to die the way his mother had. She too had pulmonary fibrosis.

“She literally suffocated to death,” said Mackie. “And I thought, if I ever have the choice, that’s not what’s going to happen to me.”

Throughout his life, Craig Mackie used his voice to help others. And he decided to do the same as he faced death, and his choice of medical assistance in dying. A documentary by Jessica Doria-Brown.

Starting conversations

Medical assistance in dying, or MAID, has been legal in Canada since 2016.

Mackie’s application was approved in September, and having that option offered him comfort. Throughout his life, he had taken on leadership roles — including at CBC Prince Edward Island and as the former head of Immigrant and Refugee Services Association P.E.I — and sharing his thoughts online about MAID became a way to continue using his voice and connecting with others.

“I wanted… to have people understand that in Canada we have this choice and it’s very special, that it could easily be taken away,” said Mackie.

“As we know from [Roe] v Wade in the States, these things can be legislated and they can be taken away. So I want people to understand that it’s — it’s a compassionate, human choice.”

MAID remains contentious in Canada. Proposed legislation to extend access to people with severe mental illness has come under fire, with changes now delayed until 2024 as the federal government, provincial and territorial partners, and medical communities assess the best way to move forward.

On P.E.I., only a handful of doctors and nurse practitioners work in this area of health care. Dr. Megan Miller, a family physician with extra training and experience in palliative care, said the focus is on helping patients who want to learn more about MAID understand their options.

“It’s a very rigorous, extremely careful process that, as practitioners, we take extremely seriously. And we do that work in a very, careful and considerate way,” said Miller.

“There is never any pressure for patients. They can withdraw their request or change their mind at any time and we would all 100-per-cent support those decisions.”

We are born. We live. We die. It’s what you do with the middle part of that sandwich that matters to me.
— Craig Mackie

In P.E.I., there were 111 MAID deaths between 2016 and 2021, with the numbers growing each year. Miller describes it as a complex and immensely personal choice, with more people applying for it than actually going through with it.

But either way, she says, talking more openly about death — and MAID — helps us all.

“I think it can be an isolating experience for some patients and people experiencing it,” said Miller.

“I think there are a lot of people in the public who don’t know how to support those patients or talk to them because of the awkwardness around it, and we are all better off if we can share some vulnerability and share the uncertainty and have conversations about it.”

A man in shorts and a sweater leans against a wooden post, surrounded by trees.
Craig Mackie was active throughout his life, enjoying hiking, curling and tai-chi. Pulmonary fibrosis brought an end to all these activities.

Opening people’s eyes

By early October, Mackie was ready to set a date for MAID. Just as he had been open about his medical journey so far, he continued to write about his final choice.

“I’m not afraid of death. It is a natural part of the cycle of life. We are born. We live. We die. It’s what you do with the middle part of that sandwich that matters to me,” he posted on Oct. 21.

For Mackie’s friends, following his regular posts became a way to stay connected in his final weeks, and add their own comments, photos and music. His Facebook page became a daily destination for those wanting to read his latest account and see what others had shared.

“I think by Craig being so open about it, it’s opened a lot of people’s eyes to the process,” said Peter Murdoch, a friend and former competitive curling teammate of Mackie’s.

“By Craig doing this, I think it’s going to make the conversation, at least among his circle, a heck of a lot easier for people.”

Complete Article HERE!

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