Assisted suicide: Sounding alarm bells

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Dear Editor: Assisted suicide is illegal in Canada. But, by voting into law Bill 52, Quebec has become the first province in Canada to pass end-of-life legislation that allows for assisted suicide.

In all probability, there will be further legislative wrangling before this issue reaches resolution. But the conception of dying with dignity by assisted suicide is knocking at our door.

Right now the criterion states that the person must have an incurable disease causing unbearable suffering. Who determines this? How is this determined? Will other provincial governments follow suit with such legislation? Will the federal government condone this, and most strikingly, will someone else make the decision to end my, or your life, by assisted suicide?

I write this letter as a cancer survivor and as an advocate for the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. In 2001, following cancer surgery, I experienced severe internal bleeding and went unconscious. My wife was left with the decision to stop my transfusion/treatment and to end my suffering and to allow me to die. I had been given a terminal diagnosis.

I live today because thank God she persevered as my advocate without my having made my wishes known to her beforehand. Dying was then something I never envisioned. Yet the grim reaper appeared at my door, supposedly (You know not the hour).    

Life can be cruel and it can be ironic. My wife died two years later from that same dread disease. She died while in palliative care. From life’s harsh lessons we now had prepared. I knew her wishes and she passed with dignity on her terms.

These incidents taught me that I, and everyone else, should deal with our end-of-life decisions now. This news from Quebec points out the urgency of spreading my message.

Don’t leave this as a hanging issue, one that you have not addressed. Putting off until later addressing these directives may turn out too late. Our last day alive could be today. So don’t leave the decision to others; it is your life, your death, your passing, so take ownership of it.

Be aware of assisted suicide. Advocates of this legislation will argue that it merely provides individual choice when faced with death. This may be true. But I wish to sound preliminary alarm bells to warn of possible abuse in the actualization of the new law. Advocates deny the possibility of the proverbial slippery slope but I believe that there really is a slippery slope that could materialize. If this option becomes legal, are the safeguards, the directives, the step-by-step procedures in place to minimize and eliminate abuses and misuses?

We have minimal input into assurances of the above. Experts claiming to speak for me and you will do these things.  

So what can you or I do?

Advance-care directives (living wills) are necessary. Let people know what your wishes are and who can make decisions when you cannot make them. The pastoral care department of our hospitals can help with preparing one. Copies can even be downloaded online. Clergy, doctors or a host of other professionals can help as well. We should all have the directive placed in our medical file.  

Here possibly is the slippery slope. I agree with the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Medical Association that the rallying cry for assisted suicide may very well compromise/ diminish/undermine the advancement of quality palliative care initiatives.

I do not think I am being naïve in stating that 99 per cent of us will not choose assisted suicide.

The reasons for me include my religious beliefs, especially my belief that God will never challenge me beyond my capacity to endure. Also I love life and want to live and I have hope in medicine and its advancement. (I have first-hand experience of the advances in pain relief.)  

When it comes to dying with dignity, assisted suicide is just one option. When it comes to dying with dignity, improved palliative care resources are the better option for the majority. If resources are to be mobilized then let them be primarily here. I pray that this shining of the light on the right to die with dignity leads to change — change for the good of humanity.   

Donald Leonard, Corner Brook

Organizations: Dear Editor, Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Medical Association

Geographic location: Canada, Quebec, Corner Brook

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  • Adam Kowalczyk
    June 12, 2014 - 07:22

    Donald, nicely written article, the language is clear to understand. Personally, I think you need to rethink what natural death is. God sentenced you to death and you let doctors intervene by treatingy our disease. The key aspect is human intervention over our bodies. Why is dying with dignity any different? You got what you wanted, but it would have been more impressive if you beat cancer without help. Get off your high horse and let freedom of choice rule the day.