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Guelph filmmakers explore MAID in new documentary

Ward 1 Studios filmmakers released an emotional documentary exploring the ‘humanity’ of medically assisted death through first-hand accounts
A still from In My Own Time

Two local filmmakers have released an emotional documentary about medical assistance in dying (MAID). 

Over the last few years, Ward 1 Studios filmmakers Sandy Clipsham and Blair Cameron felt there were some voices missing in discussions and media representation around MAID. 

“Namely, the voices of individuals who are going through that difficult decision,” Cameron said. “And going through that process with their friends and family. So we came up with this idea of working on a longer-form documentary.”

They approached Dying With Dignity Canada, a charity dedicated to improving the quality of dying and protecting end-of-life rights, which seemed like a natural partner for the project, and it snowballed from there. 

You can stream the In My Own Time online here

“This documentary is another avenue to help educate people about assisted dying in Canada. The long format allows for a deeper understanding of the law, the criteria and how people make this choice,” said Sarah Dobec, a communications specialist with Dying With Dignity. 

“These are real people and their true stories get lost in the media/politics/legislation process. Hearing from people and seeing all the misinformation in the media, we realized that there just wasn’t a true understanding of MAID and the people who access it.” 

The 56-minute film titled In My Own Time explores medically assisted death through first-hand accounts of patients, clinicians and experts. 

Finding subjects of the documentary proved difficult at first.

“It was not easy to find people to say, sure, stick a camera in my face at my most vulnerable moments at the end of life,” Clipsham said. 

But the Canadian Association of MAiD Assessors and Providers helped them make trusted connections through nurse practitioners or physicians, and though it took some time, they found their main subjects: Erin Milligan and Brian Oliviera. 

“We were really fortunate that the stories we could tell showed the range of experiences that people have, the family dynamics and conversations that happen and really just with interesting personalities,” Clipsham said. 

Milligan was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and Oliviera was battling a rare degenerative brain disease called spinocerebellar ataxia type 3. The film follows them and their loved ones in the days leading up to their planned medically assisted deaths.

It also shares the story of Audrey Parker, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer that had spread to her bones and brain, and died with MAID in 2018. She died sooner than she wanted because the law at that time required the consent of MAID recipients right up until they died. 

"Audrey's story was important to include because it showed the role of individuals in changing the laws that we have around MAID in Canada," Clipsham said. 

"In the film, we wanted to give a primer on how we got to the system we have today," he said. "Audrey wanted to do what she felt was right for others after her passing, even if she couldn't leave the world on the terms she would have wanted."

Parker's death led to the passage of Audrey's Amendment on the waiver of final consent, making it possible for MAID recipients to sign a waiver consenting to MAID, even if they don't have the capacity to consent at the time of their death. 

The film also includes a number of medical and legal experts – including Dr. Stefanie Green, MAID provider and author of This Is Assisted Dying and Jocelyn Downie, law and medicine research professor at Dalhousie University – but is rooted in the stories of Oliviera, Milligan and Parker, who chose to die on their own terms. 

Choosing MAID allowed Milligan to stay in the driver’s seat of her own life, she says in the documentary. 

“It gave me dignity. It gave me humanity,” she said. 

“I want to go out as Brian Oliviera,” Oliviera says of his decision.

In the time the documentary was filmed, Oliviera checked off one of his bucket list items to do just that: jumping out of a plane. 

Neither Cameron nor Clipsham knew he was planning to do this when they agreed to tell his story. 

“You’ll see it in the film, where they’re going down a gravel path, and he and (his wife) are chatting. Brian shared this line, I’m more scared of the plan than jumping out of the plane,” Cameron said. “All of us kind of looked at each other, like, what?” 

A few days later, they filmed him skydiving. 

“That was really an amazing moment for us. I can't imagine what It must have been like for Brian to kind of feel that freedom,” he said. 

Working on In My Own Time “was special in a lot of ways,” Clipsham said. “We’re entering these people’s lives when their legacy is being formed.” 

“I think that if we don't share these stories, and we don't continue to showcase the importance of some of this legislation in Canada, then there's a risk that that can change,” Cameron said. 

Exploring MAID and end of life care is also important to encourage conversations with family and friends about death, Clipsham said – maybe earlier than people are accustomed to to avoid conflicts at end-of-life.

“I think (those conversations) are important, and a lot of good can come from understanding within families around final wishes,” he said. 

The documentary was screened in various cinemas and other places across Canada before its public release on YouTube in mid-April. 

During the screenings, Cameron said they heard some “amazing feedback,” including from a woman who saw the film with her two daughters. She told them the film helped her to have that conversation with them so they could understand why this was a part of her wishes. 


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Taylor Pace

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