I was nervous about this new role I’d signed up for: volunteering to be one of two witnesses to make official a patient’s request for medical assistance in dying.This involves witnessing the paperwork necessary for a MAID (Medical Aid in Dying) request. The Independent Witness program, administered by Dying with Dignity, is but one of the many checks in the process of getting approved for MAID.

We witnesses are called upon for several reasons: to ensure the patient isn’t being pressured to request MAID: their death will be of no financial or other benefit to us. We’re also called upon because the patient doesn’t want to involve friends, or wants to keep their decision private. under duress.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed on. I am a keen supporter of Medical Aid in Dying, but knowing the controversy, wanted to see for myself who and why such requests would be made. What would my reaction be to the person requesting? How would I handle the task? Would I be faced with an emotional onslaught?

I made some of the most meaningful connections, with the 15 minute (maximum 30 minute) visit.

Cookies and kombucha and dancing the tango

The couple, married 70 years, who ‘needed’ to go together. We’re given their names, addresses and (sometimes) contact person and phone number. With two witnessed required at the time, there were four of us along with the couple. They offered all of us cookies and kombucha.I had decided to do some research, and learned that the Mrs was a prolific artist. At the end, we all regretfully said: we’d have liked to keep in touch.

It’s my practice to walk into the situation with a big smile on my face – it’s not forced, I always feel extremely privileged to be in the presence of someone who’s made such a momentous decision. One of the hospital rooms I walked into, I noted the woman in the bed (the patient) was wearing eyeliner. “You’re so beautifully made-up.” I said. Woman looked at her son, checking in. He nodded. “It’s tattoos”

In another house, I admired the design theme. “It’s my favourite architect, Renee Mackintosh. Would you like to see the rest of the house?” You bet I would. After, his wife whispered: you being interested is a big deal. Thank you for doing that.”

Then, there was the lovely – albeit somewhat emaciated – fella who had a Tango certificate on his wall. He showed me a couple of steps, and I revealed I always wanted to be a dancer.

My approach is much less conventional than my fellow witnesses, but I know I’m doing the right thing from the Thank You letters I’ve gotten.

If you want to know more from those who’ve gone through the experience, or the experience of supporting someone: