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IN THE FIELD: DEAN STOLTZ

The CAJ's Jasmine Stamos speaks to Dean Stoltz about his emotional journey reporting on medically assisted death, and the responsibility that comes with telling the intimate story of a man's passing in Dying with Dignity

What was going through your mind when Ed Ness asked you to tell his story of "Dying with Dignity"?

I'd been to Ed's home to meet him and his wife two days before he died. I originally thought it would just be one story about this man who made the decision to use MAiD to die and that would be it. I never imagined that he would invite me to THE day. He called it D-Day. Death Day. I guess I made enough of an impression on him in that one meeting that he wanted me back to record his death and tell the world about the wonderful options Canadians now have. (The federal government had legalized medically assisted dying in June 2016 when Parliament passed Bill C-14.) I was honored to have been invited and I accepted his invitation but was basically a nervous wreck. I had covered a lot of death in my 24-year career to that time, but nothing like this. And it wasn't so much seeing the man die, but telling his story in a responsible, powerful way that would do his story justice. That was my biggest concern. 

What went on behind-the-scenes of this story that we don't get the chance to see in your broadcast?  

Well, the story itself paints a pretty good picture of what was happening at Ed's home. But getting there was a bit different. The viewers didn't know about the in-depth conversations I had with my producers about how we would cover this. We were pretty sure I was going to be the first broadcast journalist in Canada to cover a medically assisted death. But I insisted that in absolutely no way would this be about me. Ed wanted his message to be that MAiD is not suicide or medically assisted suicide, that it's a legal option for Canadians who have a terminal illness and want not to die an agonizing death. Another key decision made behind the scenes is that we would not rush to air a story that evening, but air it the next day. That was a great relief to me since Ed would die shortly after 2 pm and our first news broadcast airs at 5 pm. Simply not enough time to do the story I felt I needed to tell. 

How did you prepare yourself to cover such an intimate and emotional story?  

I was pretty confident in my ability to do the right thing. I think my years of experience prepared me to handle the stress and keep my composure. I knew it would be emotional and as Ed was dying, I was VERY emotional, just like everyone else in the room. I really didn't try to hide it. Until the end, Ed was strong and unwavering in his decision to die this way, so I think that helped me as well. 

Was there anything about covering Ness' "D-Day" (as he called it) that surprised you, or that you weren't expecting?  

I wasn't expecting the entire thing. Really, I was in awe and surprised from the very beginning. From when I met him at his front door for the first interview and found him looking much healthier than I expected, to his candidness about his decision and mostly, his invitation to D-Day. He wanted his death day to be like a dinner party and that also surprised me, to find that it was. I knew I would be emotional, but I was surprised at how easy and quickly the tears came. After my final story aired the day after he died, I received numerous emails from viewers commending me for how I covered Ed's story. That surprised me and humbled me, again. 

What did you take away from this story, both personally and as a journalist?  

A few months after my story ran, a friend of mine said he'd never really thought about MAiD, but my had story convinced him that that was what he would do if he ever found himself in the same position as Ed. Well, as fate would have it, less than a year after Ed died, Philip was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  It was a devastating time for his family and friends and again he brought up dying a medically assisted death. I think that's when it really hit me that my story had probably impacted far more people than I ever thought. Now I saw my friend going down the same path as Ed. Unfortunately, Philip was never able to follow through with MAiD because the cancer took him too fast. Nevertheless, the story was an incredible reminder to me of how powerful my medium is and how important my stories can be. 

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Dean Stoltz is an Editor and Video Journalist at CHEK NEWS on Vancouver Island. Read more about his experience reporting on Ed Ness' medically assisted death.  

Follow Dean on Twitter: @DeanStoltzCHEK

Contact Dean: dstoltz@cheknews.ca

Jasmine is an Ottawa-based journalist interested in local history, theatre and heritage architecture. She has been published in Capital Current, Centretown News, The Charlatan, the Ottawa Citizen and other publications. She is the 2019 CAJ Post-Secondary Student Intern. 

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