Comox Valley actress and artist Sydney Doberstein began her career in 2010 acting for stage and screen, and after getting an agent, quickly learned if she wanted to get lead roles, she had to create something for herself.
Little did she know at the time, she would turn the camera on not only herself but also her family in an intimate, six-part docu-series on her grandmother’s decision for a medical assistance in death (MAiD) in the Valley.
Doberstein and her producer-husband Fraser Larock, who both reside in Vancouver, along with director of photography/editor Danie Easton, received a Telus Storyhive Voices 1.0 grant for $10,000 for their production Our End in Mind, which takes a look at Doberstein’s grandmother’s passing as she chose MAiD.
The series features Valley doctors, hospice and community members involved in supporting families through the MAiD process, and explores her family’s experience and Doberstein’s experience in reconciling her grief of her grandmother’s death.
“Fraser pitched the idea and at first I was really hesitant, but knowing if it could help at least one person, I knew it would be worth it,” says Doberstein. “I wanted to make sure someone else felt like they were seen - I wanted them to see themselves in my experience. I knew I was going to create something from this pain.”
The series, which was filmed over seven months in 2022, follows Donna Jean Walton, who passed away on Aug. 4, 2020 following a battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It begins with Doberstein revisiting Walton’s home, and the days leading up to her death and her decision to choose MAiD.
She explains the idea of recording and interviewing her family about an extremely intimate and personal experience brought some fear - she admits being scared, but ultimately got their blessing.
She and Larock both note they knew they wanted to present the story in a series, representing the different acts of Doberstein’s journey.
Larock says the entire project was challenging, both as a producer and as Doberstein’s partner supporting her through the journey. He says the reason for keeping the crew small was to maintain a level of intimacy throughout production.
“Being in the room was challenging, but really it was such a shared experience through MAiD and I am grateful to be a part of it.”
One goal in creating the docu-series is to create a resource for others going through a similar experience, says Doberstein. She notes the episodes don’t preach about MAiD and the decision around it, rather they offer a personal story “with a lot of compassion throughout.”
She is hoping to find a variety of ways to keep the documentary going and is working with Dying With Dignity Canada (an organization committed to improving the quality of dying, protecting end-of-life rights and helping Canadians avoid unwanted suffering) and Bridge C-14, a network of peer-to-peer connections and community supports through all stages of MAiD.
Before her grandmother’s decision, Doberstein admits she didn’t know MAiD was an option for those living with a grievous and irremediable medical condition, and hopes the series can be a tool for patients, family and friends, and caregivers.
Most recently in Canada, MAiD for people whose sole medical condition is mental illness was set to become legal in Canada in March 2023. On Dec. 15, 2022, the federal government announced plans to temporarily delay MAiD eligibility in order to review a report that is due out in February 2023.