Thursday, November 19, 2009

The elusive goal - death with dignity

Since I've moved to Victoria, I've had the good fortune to get to know David Cubberly. Although he was my local MLA for a couple of years, I got to know him through mutual friends and pot lucks we've been at.

After several years covering politics at the Saskatchewan legislature in the latter part of the last century - boy does that make me sound old! - I've become a bit cynical about politics and politicians. But David is what I would call one of the good ones.

He didn't run in our last provincial election and he's turned his attention to local community work. He's also become a blogger and I recommend his writings. He's a well informed, thoughtful writer with a lot of interesting things to say.

His most recent post is called simply "Dignified Goodbyes." It's an eloquent essay about why the time has come for society to seriously consider euthanasia as an option for terminally ill people.

He writes about his aunt, who died peacefully, in her sleep, and how everyone who knew her was pleased by such a gentle death. But his mother, wasting away with cancer, suffered through a long, painful decline that was a misery for her and her caregivers.
If to be unaware of passing away is deemed by most a good death, next best would be choosing the moment in a manner that mimicked, so far as possible, a gentle way of passing. That’s a scenario not currently available to most of us, a situation many feel we need to change.
Here in Victoria, I've become involved with the Victoria Hospice as a Board member. If ever there was a group whose members understand the importance of dying with dignity, the hospice workers are it. Death is a subject that most people avoid, yet it is as natural and as wondrous as birth - and as inevitable. All of us will die. We just don't know when.

David says the time has come for society to reconsider the question of a death with dignity.
I think we're coming to a time of decision with regard to personal choice for a dignified ending of life. There are signs of an emerging resolve on the public's part to see the issue addressed, especially in defined situations like terminal illness. Here on the west coast, where Sue Rodriguez was a public figure, where neighouring Oregon's Dying with Dignity Law demonstrates how safeguards can work, there's strong sentiment in favour of change.

Many believe it's ethically wrong to force someone dying slowly in great pain to simply tough it out. Yes palliative care should always be available and still isn't, as should hospice, to enable those who can to hang on until disease runs its full course. But we must face what most doctors recognize: palliation of suffering may be ineffectual at the higher reaches of pain, and the agony of lost autonomy and dignity can lead people to want to go.

It's time we recognized individual choice in the matter and ensured a humane and compassionate way to exercise it.
David's post is a lengthy look at a lot of the issues around physician-assisted death. He also talks about MP Francine Lalonde's private member's bill that is working its way through the House of Commons and he urges readers who would like to see parliament deal with the issue seriously to contact their MP and make their views known. (Judging by the volume of Google results when I searched under "bill c-384 canada news" I'd say that the anti-euthanasia lobby is very, very active and formidable, so I'm not sure that the bill has any chance of moving forward.)

Still, I urge you to read David's entire essay, and, if you agree, consider adding your voice to those who believe that the time has come to ensure that all Canadians have the right to live - and die - in dignity.

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