Doctor-assisted suicide for Canada

Muriel black and white Kudos to Canada’s Supreme Court, which this week voted unanimously for doctor-assisted suicide. It seems they’ve given a reluctant Conservative government a year to put it in place. This is something I have wanted for myself for years and I heartily approve. Hurrah for Canada, the country that made Gay marriage legal, and now has passed another important act of compassion.

Normal people don’t move mountains, and Dr. Jack Kevorkian, crazy as he may have been, was a hero in my eyes. He assisted 120 people to die. To my friend who is writing about serial killers, that is what he considers Kevorkian was — a killer. Interesting….

Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his suicide machine

Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his suicide machine

People have strong feelings on this issue, and I will not argue. I just know how I feel, and lately, it has been front and center in my own life because a friend asked me to help him end his suffering. (And, this was not the first time I have been approached in this way — I don’t know why.)

“C” was a member of the organization I started 15 years ago for people with balance and dizziness disorders. When I first met him, I was sure the guy would kill himself at work, which sometimes required climbing ladders. He had Ataxia, which compromised his nervous system and his balance was severely affected even then. Fate sometimes plays cruel jokes on us, he had been a Tango dancing devotee.

His co-workers thought he drank. He let them think so. They would chuckle, and he would smile with them. But it was a charade — he didn’t drink — though if you saw him walking, you would certainly think so. He was determined to keep working until he was 65 so he could collect his pension. I was sure he wouldn’t make it….

No one fought harder than “C” to continue functioning, he attended Tai Chi classes, and regularly worked out at a gym. His arm muscles looked strong and powerful, but his illness was even more powerful. However, every step I thought he should take, he delayed. He drove longer than I thought he should. He walked without a cane longer than I thought he should — and he fell, again and again. When I felt he needed a walker, he finally gave in and bought a cane — and kept falling. When I thought he needed a wheelchair, he purchased a walker.

They must have known him well at the emergency department of his local hospital. Once, it was nine stitches to his scalp, another time it was twelve. Too often he sported ugly scrapes and bruises. I worried. He drove me nuts. It became too dangerous for him to live on his own. Long after I thought he should give up his apartment, he finally gave in. The falls, however, never stopped.

When things became more than he could bear, he asked me to help him end his life. I contacted “The Farewell Foundation”, an organization which helps people in his position as much as they are legally permitted to. They cannot provide anything for you, but they will stay with you when YOU, yourself, obtain or do whatever you decide on, until you are dead. I understood their position.

Sociologist Russel Ogden, founder of The Farewell Foundation

Sociologist Russel Ogden, founder of The Farewell Foundation

Things became more and more unbearable. He could no longer write. He could no longer speak clearly. He could no longer hear much. I met with him and the kind people from the organization. They warned me to be careful and told me of possible dire consequences. A woman who had helped someone spent over $100,000 in court, lost her passport and could no longer leave the country. My children live out of the country. I love them. I want to be able to visit them. I was scared.

We visited his doctor together. He was sympathetic, but not willing to help — too frightened to I assume. Again, we understood. I bought the most recent copy of “Final Exit”. I read it cover to cover. I marked and underlined everything I felt could be helpful, brought it to “C” and read those parts for him. We talked about the various options. However, as usual, everything he decided to do, he decided on too late.

The last fall I was aware of cost him an eye. They had to remove it. After that, he was permanently hospitalized. Things were now truly out of his hands. He again begged me to help. I was told if he chose not to eat in hospital, they wouldn’t be allowed to force him, and they are required to keep him comfortable. Did he understand? Was the information I was given correct? I’ll never know.

He then asked me to take him to Switzerland. He could no longer walk at all. I would not be physically capable of helping him make it. It was too late. In desperation, he asked me to get him a gun. He was no longer able to hold one or to shoot it. It broke my heart to watch his suffering. Can a caring person be relieved and glad when a friend dies? I was….

For “C” and the other person I knew who would have opted to end his life on his own terms had he been able to, I hope this new law will be enacted and be there for all who wish it. You need not agree…..

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5 thoughts on “Doctor-assisted suicide for Canada

  1. Great post, Mom. I echo your kudos for Canada, as it has never made sense to me that civilized countries would have some laws preventing suffering in animals, yet cling to other laws forcing humans to endure suffering beyond imagination.

    I personally think that the law should not only be for people who have a fatal illness, but also for people who have a proven history of chronic mental illness, which can and does sometimes cause unbearable suffering. The problem there, of course, is how to establish “mental competency” in someone who is mentally ill. Perhaps individuals who have extended lucid periods while complying with medication regimes? Having watched a close friend fight against mental illness (and lose) for years, and knowing how much he wanted to die, I could not help but think at times that it would be a mercy if he did. I doubt this law will go anywhere near this aspect of the argument.

    Even so, I am tremendously grateful this law has been passed. Another close friend of mine tried to help her own terminally ill and paralyzed mother commit suicide, and it went horribly wrong. She was so traumatized by the experience (her mother ended up in the hospital and took several days to die) that she was later diagnosed with PTSD.

    I want everyone I love to live forever, but since that is not the way of things, I would take great comfort in knowing there was a humane, dignified way to ease their passing.

    Thank you, Canada!

    • Muriel, I am with you 100% and am so sad to hear about what C had to go through – he was such a nice man. Let us hope and pray that when we are ready for this scenario it will not be so difficult for us to die with dignity and not leave our children with the image you portrayed of C. We can’t all go to Switzerland and should have the option right here in our own country………………eve

  2. Muriel, I, Too, am with you 100% & proud of Canada for taking this step. It will remain controversial despite being the law and will probably be challenged in court, but until then it IS the law. See you on Saturday at the opera – Cheers, Ann

  3. Muriel, it is heartbreaking reading about “C” and other people in similar circumstances. I cannot imagine what they are going through. It will be a while before this becomes law, I still remember the protests and attacks on women who wanted an abortion. Hopefully sane minds will prevail, and help will be available to anyone that needs it. Diane

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