LETHBRIDGE -- University of Lethbridge researchers are launching an in-depth study into a number of issues facing rural Albertans in connection with medically-assisted dying (MaiD) legislation.

The research project, headed by Dr. Julia Brassolotto, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Health Science’s Public Health program at the University of Lethbridge, will look into how the legislation affects rural Albertans.

“Our goal is to better understand MaiD in rural Alberta,” says Brassolotto in a release. “We want to understand how current policies affect rural communities and gain insight into people’s lived experiences of related ethical issues.”

The federal government legalized medical assistance in dying in 2016, but Brassolotto says little research has been done on how the law is affecting those in smaller communities.

She says some rural areas are seeing a shortage of physicians and limited access to palliative care which may cause ethical issues when it comes to decision-making about the law. The team wants to understand the local policy landscape and the influences that have helped shape people’s views.

“We want to explore this issue from a social sciences and humanities perspective,” she says. “Ask questions like, ‘Are you decisions made fully on your own when you are in this complex web of relationships in a small community for better or for worse?’”

Brassolotto says they want to know what people’s concerns are, what’s working well and what needs work.

“We want to get away from stereotypes or assumptions about what rural residents think.”

The group will also explore the role of media in people’s opinions of MAiD.

The team hopes to begin interviews with rural residents and health-care providers early next year.

“In terms of change that we’re trying to make, I’d like to see more context-specific policies and practices,” Brassolotto says. “We can’t necessarily have a blanket policy for all of Alberta and assume it will play out the same in Calgary as it does in Bassano or Milk River, for example.”

The project received funding in July and is currently in the ethics approval stage.