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AHS doctor honoured for role in developing MAID process

May 31, 2017

EDMONTON – The Alberta Health Services (AHS) physician who led the development of Alberta’s framework for medical assistance in dying will receive one of the Canadian Medical Association’s (CMA’s) highest honours.

Calgary-based Dr. Jim Silvius has been named the 2017 recipient of the CMA’s Dr. William Marsden Award in Medical Ethics for his leadership in helping create Alberta’s response to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for medical assistance in dying (MAID). 

In a matter of a few months, Dr. Silvius brought together numerous stakeholders and created a process that accommodates dissenting viewpoints. The result is a model for dealing with medical assistance in dying that is now being replicated by other provinces.

“I think part of the reason we were successful was that we took into account the diversity of opinion around the issue and ensured the rights of everybody would be protected by what we put in place,” Dr. Silvius says.

“We tried to design a system for the entire province, not just Alberta Health Services, and one that works for everyone – including those who object to medical assistance in dying,” says Dr. Silvius, who is also the AHS provincial medical director for seniors health and the senior medical director for the Seniors Health Strategic Clinical Network. 

In June 2016, the federal government passed a law governing the delivery of medical assistance in dying services across Canada. One of the key features of Alberta’s response to the new legislation was to create a single point of contact for patients, families and healthcare providers through the Medical Assistance in Dying Care Coordination Service – the first jurisdiction to create such a coordination service. 

Alberta was also the first to publicly report data about MAID every week, which can be found at www.ahs.ca/MAID

“The Government of Alberta congratulates Dr. Silvius for this well-deserved award,” says Brandy Payne, Associate Minister of Health. “We also thank him for his sensitive and skillful leadership on this important issue that set the stage for medical assistance in dying in Alberta. As a result of his thoughtful work, other jurisdictions are looking to Alberta in their efforts to create a similar model.”

The CMA today announced in a news release its 2017 award recipients, which include Dr. Silvius. The award will be presented in August in Quebec City at the association’s General Council and Annual Meeting.

“The advent of medical assistance in dying is one of the biggest changes we’ve ever seen to medical practice in Canada,” says Dr. Verna Yiu, AHS president and CEO. “In overseeing this work, Jim handled an incredibly challenging assignment with great skill and diplomacy. He is most deserving of the accolade from the Canadian Medical Association and we thank and applaud him for his leadership and for his efforts.”

Dr. Silvius was nominated for the ethics award by the Alberta Medical Association. 

“By all accounts, Dr. Silvius was a master of negotiation and reconciliation on an emotionally charged topic,” the AMA says in its nomination letter, signed by its executive director, Michael Gormley. “He spent hundreds of hours interviewing, listening and soliciting diverse viewpoints, and he did it all in an incredibly short time frame for such a monumental task.”

The CMA’s award in medical ethics is “presented to recognize a CMA member who has demonstrated exemplary leadership, commitment and dedication to the cause of advancing and promoting excellence in the field of medical ethics in Canada,” according to the award’s terms of reference.

“I was overwhelmed by the thought that the society of my colleagues thought this was something they should be doing,” Dr. Silvius says of the nomination from the Alberta Medical Association. 

“I was even more astonished to learn I was selected to receive this award.” 

He is quick to add, however, that many others also deserve acknowledgement for their contributions in developing Alberta’s medical assistance in dying framework. 

“There was a core group of about a dozen people who worked their hearts out on this,” he says. “The credit is not mine alone – by a long shot.”  

To find out more about medical assistance in dying, visit www.ahs.ca/MAID. To request information about the Medical Assistance in Dying Care Coordination Service, email MAID.CareTeam@ahs.ca.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

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For media inquiries, including to arrange an interview with Dr. Silvius, contact:  

Greg Harris
AHS Communications
403-943-2911
403-619-3108 (cell)
gregory.harris@ahs.ca