VIU professor using patient-oriented approach to medical assistance in dying research

VIU Nursing professor Dr. Caroline Variath standing outside on a sunny day and smiling at the camera

Dr. Caroline Variath. Photo: Vancouver Island University

December 12, 2023 - 11:45am

Dr. Caroline Variath received a Michael Smith Health Research BC award for her work.

Vancouver Island University (VIU) Nursing Professor Dr. Caroline Variath is researching ways to enhance awareness of and access to end-of-life care for patients.

Medical assistance in dying (MAID) has been legal in Canada since 2016. The law was revised in 2021 and removes the requirement for a person’s natural death to be reasonably foreseeable to be eligible for MAID.

Variath said the topic is contentious and has raised concerns amongst the general population.

“As a result, it’s easy to lose sight of what truly matters,” she added. “In the current state of our health-care system, disability activists and advocates for those facing social vulnerabilities worry that individuals may turn to MAID due to a lack of access to essential resources.”

Variath is taking a patient-oriented approach to her research. She said this approach is crucial to ensure that the study remains focused on achieving improved patient outcomes – whether that involves accessing MAID or other supportive therapies.

Collaborating closely with Island Health’s Palliative and End-of-Life Care team, Variath will set up an advisory committee. Her team includes two VIU students, Nova Heartland and Ashley Woods, who are conducting a comprehensive literature review.

Insights from the review will help the team plan an upcoming workshop in the spring or summer of 2024. The workshop will bring together the advisory committee and a network of stakeholders connected to MAID services in the Island Health region. Attendees will provide input on experiences, available support systems, resources, and the barriers and gaps associated with MAID processes, especially for persons whose death is not reasonably foreseeable.

Variath’s main goal is to use the insights gathered through this process to advocate for meaningful improvements in MAID coordination and delivery at Island Health and to lay foundations for patient-oriented research aimed at addressing the identified gaps in the MAID processes under the new legislation.

She recently received a Michael Smith Health Research BC C2 award to support her work. Through her work she aims to positively impact the experiences of patients, their families and health-care professionals with supportive and end-of-life care.

“My clinical experiences have illuminated the existing disparities in access to essential supportive therapies and end-of-life care for patients,” she said.

“The work that Dr. Variath is leading is of critical importance to a highly controversial issue in Canadian society,” said Dr. Nicole Vaugeois, Associate Vice-President of Research and Graduate Studies. “Bringing people together to discuss this topic using a research-informed approach will illuminate gaps in the MAID processes while identifying improvements in coordination and delivery in our region that positively impact end-of-life care supports.”



Eric Zimmer, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

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Tags: Nursing | Research

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