When I was 16 I announced to my parents, “People should have the right to commit suicide if they wish.” The silence around the kitchen table echoed the shocked looks on my Mom’s and Dad’s faces.
What did I expect? We were all Catholic. Back then in the grey ages, the Catholic Church didn’t even bury suicides in consecrated ground. That has now changed.
So has the law on suicides. Did you know that in Canada it used to be a criminal offence to commit suicide? Of course you had to survive the suicide to be charged. Kind of ironic if you didn’t actually commit the deed you were charged. I know there is still a criminal charge of attempted murder of another person but that’s murder.
I’m talking assisted suicide here. And my views on suicide have changed somewhat since my pronouncement at the dinner table.
Lately, there has been a lot in the news about dying with dignity and assisted suicide. In July, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled physicians who help terminally ill patients who request assisted suicide should be exempt from the Criminal Code section referring to “aids or abets a person to commit suicide” The BC court gave a one-year moratorium to its decision so Parliament could rewrite the current law. Read more about it at http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/07/13/pol-cp-federal-appeal-assisted-suicide.html The advocate and main plaintiff here was BC resident, Gloria Taylor, who had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). The court granted her an exemption from the current law for a year.
Almost 10 years ago another advocate for assisted suicide, Sue Rodrigues, again dying from Lou Gehrig’s Disease and again in British Columbia was not granted her wish for assisted suicide (Sue Rodriguez v. The Attorney General of Canada and the Attorney General of British Columbia). However, Rodrigues had her doctor-assisted suicide. The doctor’s name was never revealed and no charges were laid against him or her. Read about it (with references) at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodriguez_v._British_Columbia_%28Attorney_General%29
Shortly after the June 2012 BC Supreme Court decision, the Federal Parliament appealed to revoke this law. And Gloria Taylor died this month– from natural causes – an infection.
Except for perhaps abortion, controlling our last days on earth (as much as we can; we can’t control getting murdered) is the biggest issue evoking passion on both sides of the fence.
My take is the individual who has either a terminal illness and/or who is suffering from a debilitating illness should decide whether to live or die. And for those of you thinking it is God’s will whether we live or die and even when we live or die, ask yourself the question “ Have you ever heard or read about anyone saying that a murder or fatal car accident is God’s will?” Shouldn’t this aspect apply to terminal/debilitating illness as well? For example, doesn’t a lot of whether a person with cancer or heart failure dies on the operating table or not have something to do with the surgeon’s skills and the patient’s condition?
The individual’s choice means if the individual wants to keep on living as long as possible, then so be it. Give the person all the medical and emotional support needed. But if he or she wants to end life when things go from bad to worse – but aren’t in any condition to do so – then assisted suicide by a medical doctor should be allowed with appropriate guidelines and it must be stated by the ill person in a Living Will, etc. (when they can still do so) that this is his or her wish. We don’t want a greedy offspring with Power of Attorney signing Mom or Dad up for assisted suicide just to get his inheritance. But do we want someone kept on life support who doesn’t want to be because that is the way it is done medically and legally?
I no longer think that anyone who wants to kill himself should be allowed to do so. If a person is depressed he or she should be helped and supported (and not to die). Having had a cousin in his late 30s kill himself and also attempting suicide myself thirty years ago when I was depressed has made me see some light here. I had little support (except a shrink) back then (postpartum depression blew up into a full depression if you must know) and I think with more support I might have never tried to go to the other side. Just lucky here as I miscounted the number of pills that would do it and I called a distress centre. But that’s another topic for another post. My depression wore off when another illness hit – migraines. Today it’s anxiety and worry I deal with, not depression.
What I do think is if I’m terminally ill or have Alzheimer’s I don’t want to stick around to the bitter end with all the pain and suffering to get there – not just mine, but my family’s. But I want to live as long as the quality of my life is still good. I’ve already appointed my son as Power of Attorney if my health gets to the point where that is needed. And as my lawyer told me, the POA only puts the person in charge of your health. You (I) have to specify what the POS person must do. I have – in a Living Will which I gave my son and in a talk I had with him and his girlfriend/partner.
In a nutshell, figure out what you want to do about your death and dying (and that includes funerals, burials, or not, etc.) – do all the legal paperwork and let your family know your wishes – verbally and in writing. My lawyer has also told me about visiting dying clients in the hospital where family members argued about whether to pull the plug or not.
Now we need governments to do the right thing and give people the choice.
Sharon A. Crawford
Only Child Writes