I have used this link in my blog before (Les Vieux. (July 6, 2012). The very old lady I referred to in that post, my mother’s last survivng friend, has since died. She decided she was too tired to go on and just stopped eating. It took a long time.
Aubade by Philip Larkin reminds us that no one escapes. We can put off thinking about death for only so long. I know that I am not afraid to die, but I am afraid of the lingering life-in-death that may precede it. Like Dr. Low (Saying Goodbye, Sept 24 2013) I want to be the one to decide…
The right to assisted suicide for the terminally ill has once again become a public issue. Whether it will become a political issue in our next election remains to be seen.
It should come as no surprise that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government are not interested in discussing assisted suicide.
Assisted suicide is a hot-button issue and one that, much like abortion, can be deeply divisive. It is fraught with emotional, religious, legal and ethical perspectives that can be difficult to reconcile. The federal government has refused to consider even small changes in law that would provide some options for people suffering terminal illness and/or some legal protection to medical professionals. Harper and his government have consistently declined to be drawn into any assisted-suicide debates. But now they may have no choice.
The polarizing issue surged into the public eye recently following the death of Dr. Donald Low. Low, who died Sept. 18 of a brain tumour, was an infectious disease specialist who became a familiar, trusted face during the 2003 SARS crisis in Toronto. With the late Dr. Sheela Basrur, Ontario medical officer of health at the time, Low worked to instil a sense of calm during an extended period of anxiety.
Eight days before his death, Low recorded a video in which he advocates for the legalization of assisted suicide to allow people to die with dignity. In the video, Low describes the impact of his illness and expresses his frustration: “I’m just frustrated with not being able to have control of my own life, not being able to make the decision myself when enough is enough.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Health Minister Deb Matthews say Low’s powerful video has opened a discussion that Canadians want to have. The government of Quebec has introduced right-to-die legislation. Recent polling suggests increased public support for some softening of the federal stance against the legalization of assisted suicide. But federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay is adamant that the government has “no desire to reintroduce legislation that would open this issue up.”
The federal government risks being left behind as Canadians continue this discussion. It is clearly one of those issues on which the public is way ahead of government. And with increasing numbers of baby boomers reaching old age, more and more of us will be facing end-of-life issues such as assisted suicide.
Legalizing assisted suicide is not risk-free. Certainly there are legitimate concerns about abuse and, perhaps, the potential for commercialization. But calm and open discussion is the only way to deal with such concerns. And it is imperative that the federal government be an active participant in that discussion.
It may be that after intense study and consultation, we find the risks are simply too great to justify substantive changes to the law. But we won’t know that unless we do the hard work. For that, we need calm and open discussion with our federal government.