We’ve earned the right to die with dig­nity

The Compass - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky East­ern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 39 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@thetele­gram.com Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

Peo­ple talk a lot about fight­ing can­cer, as if you’re ex­pected to give ev­ery­thing to bat­tle a dis­ease that of­ten has the odds in its favour. Truth is, the fight it­self can be ag­o­niz­ing, de­bil­i­tat­ing, and can in­volve a com­plete loss of your per­sonal pri­vacy and dig­nity.

In all, there have been 3,714 recorded as­sisted deaths in Canada since leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing the prac­tice was put in place two years ago.

I’m sure that num­ber will be a handy po­lit­i­cal foot­ball for some­one ea­ger to gain the most pos­si­ble votes by sug­gest­ing that too many peo­ple must be be­ing co­erced to die.

Thing is, those politi­cians might be read­ing their sup­port­ers all wrong.

If the num­bers are right and the most reg­u­lar and con­sis­tent vot­ers are older, dig down a bit and you might find some healthy prag­ma­tism, not only about life, but about when the time has come to end it.

Look into it a lit­tle, and you find out that most of those who choose to have help tak­ing their own lives were suf­fer­ing from can­cer (65 per cent); you also find that most of them were over the age of 73.

That fits ex­actly with my mother’s sit­u­a­tion. She died of can­cer nine years ago, but as any­one who has lost a par­ent knows, she still crops up when I sud­denly re­al­ize that I’ve been think­ing about call­ing her to tell her some­thing im­por­tant or just funny.

It was well be­fore as­sisted dy­ing leg­is­la­tion was put in place.

Peo­ple talk a lot about fight­ing can­cer, as if you’re ex­pected to give ev­ery­thing to bat­tle a dis­ease that of­ten has the odds in its favour.

Truth is, the fight it­self can be ag­o­niz­ing, de­bil­i­tat­ing, and can in­volve a com­plete loss of your per­sonal pri­vacy and dig­nity. In other words, “fight­ing the good fight” can in­volve sur­ren­der­ing ev­ery sin­gle thing that makes life worth liv­ing.

Some­where along the way, you might just be fin­ished. Look­ing for­ward only to more pain and an in­evitable de­cline on all fronts, you may de­cide to seek help.

At least now you don’t have to seek it clan­des­tinely from a mem­ber of your fam­ily - more to the point, from one or more of your chil­dren.

I don’t know if my mother asked either of my broth­ers to help her die; we have never re­ally talked about that (or if we have, it’s van­ished, like so many other things, in the soft crum­bling bro­ken days im­me­di­ately af­ter her death).

All I know is that she did ask me, in the mid­dle of the night, in the quiet of her liv­ing room, while she was ly­ing on the couch and I was sit­ting on the floor next to her.

As a par­ent my­self, I can only imag­ine how hard it must be for some­one to ask that of their child: I know I will al­ways choose to pro­tect my chil­dren from as much as I can of the hard­ships of life, and I can only imag­ine how much suf­fer­ing she must have been in to even ask. It was a des­per­ate act. And I couldn’t help. Even nine years later, it still nags at my soul.

I hope it’s a po­si­tion you don’t ever have to find your­self in, either as a par­ent mak­ing a near-im­pos­si­ble re­quest of your child, or as adult who has to bear the weight of either do­ing what’s asked of you, or fail­ing to help a par­ent when they need you most. (If you want an even bet­ter ex­pla­na­tion of this than mine, read Lawrence Hill’s heart-wrench­ing “Act of love: the life and death of Donna May Hill” - you can read it here: https://tgam. ca/2xz1aMP )

And that brings me back to the ques­tion of what hap­pens if some­one de­cides to move this de­bate back­wards.

Hello, politi­cians: if you de­cide to turn this into a po­lit­i­cal foot­ball again, tee it up, put your fin­ger on the ball and I’ll kick.

But I won’t be kick­ing the foot­ball.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.