Every person has the right to live.
So shouldn’t every person have the right to choose when to die?
If you live in BC, 87% of you agree with this statement according to a recent poll and yet it is still against the law in Canada for a physician to assist a patient to end their own life. In October 2013 an appeal was overturned to uphold a 1993 Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling against assisted suicide.
If *84% of Canadians agree with the right to choose when to die and to have assistance from a medical doctor in order to do it then why isn’t this the law?
Because we are so uncomfortable with death and dying that we’d rather avoid the topic and I can certainly understand. But I haven’t met one person who said that they don’t want to be able to make that choice for themselves.
Brittany Maynard’s Story
I was listening to the news today about Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. Brittany lives in Oregon now, but moved with her family from California where the laws around assisted suicide are similar to those in Canada. She has been given six months to live and wants to decide where and when she will die.
Brittany has a plan for the last few months of her life. She wants to see the Grand Canyon and she wants to die on November 1st. She wants to die in her own home with her family around her and I say that’s amazing. It’s amazing because she has the support of her family and the law is on her side. That’s the way it should be.
Have a look at this video and see for yourself what Brittany and her family have to say. Make sure you have tissues.
Brittany’s story inspires me but it also breaks my heart. I lost my grandmother and the way she died was not the way I’d want to go. Our government needs to change the way it handles this by giving the rights back to the people.
My Grandmother’s Death
My grandmother died two years ago this October at the age of 86. She wasn’t sick, in any pain or taking any medications but she was sad. She was sad about her physical state as she felt betrayed by her body. She stayed sharp in her mind up until a few months before her death which may have been the biggest betrayal of all. She was aware of what was happening and could do nothing to stop it.
Once a vibrant active woman she withered before our eyes. Ten years before her death, she insisted that her husband find a care home for her so she could live out the rest of her days. It was this decision, one that would rip her away from the love of her life, that sent her over the edge. She wanted to be strong about it but inside I think she was terribly sad. She was sad about the prospect of being a burden to her husband and she was sad that she wasn’t strong enough in her mind to overcome her sadness about it.
After that decision it wasn’t until about seven years later that she became wheelchair bound, and it wasn’t long after that she became unable to care for herself. She told my mother that she didn’t want to live that way, unable to take care of her basic needs. But she was with us for a few years still.
From what my mom tells me, it was enough for my grandmother to know that she had family around her that loved her. But I can’t help but think that her mental suffering was too much to bear, even for her. I know that she battled mild to moderate depression over the years and towards the end, I think that was what took away her will to live. And then ageing did the rest. I wish there had been different choices available to my grandmother.
On her deathbed, her once beautiful face was hollow, the skin taut and waxen. Eyes that were in the past brilliant and blue were lifeless, empty. As I kissed her forehead to say, ‘See you soon’ it was hot to touch but her hands were cold; a sign of her life slipping away.
When I think of my grandmother now that is the first image that flashes through my mind. I wish I could unsee it as that is not the way I want to remember her.
I’ll never know if that is how she really wanted to die. I can only say that if I were her, I wouldn’t want to go that way.
If I became terminally ill I would want to be able to make choices for myself that honour my right to live and/or die with dignity. And I would want my legacy to be that of the vibrant, happy woman who overcame obstacles insurmountable to some, but was humble and kind and funny as hell. (I’m working on my legacy as we speak) I certainly don’t want my son to remember me the way I remember my grandmother.
As an aside, I gave the eulogy for my grandmother at her memorial service. If you would like to read it, it is here.
The Laws around Assisted Dying Need to Change
Just as I believe it’s a woman’s right to control what happens to her body, it is a human right to decide when it’s time to go. Why must the government have the right to intervene if a terminally ill person wants to die with dignity? They are the one suffering and they should be the one to make that decision.
Next week on October 15th 2014 the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case involving Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor that say the present law on assisted suicide contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that medical help to die is a human right. Read that story here.
Do you support the right to assisted dying? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
*Here’s an interesting fact. The poll says that individual respondents who did not agree with the question were either frequent church goers or without a high school education.