We’ve earned the right to die with dignity
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.