Common Sense in End-of-Life Choices

Few want to think about it. But there are choices to made about death. Doing nothing is one option. Life will, inevitably, one way or another, come to an end. But making common sense decisions about personal preferences for end-of-life should not be taboo or disallowed. And politicians should get out of the way.
In Canada, the would-be “just society”, the vast majority of citizens, about 80%, have repeatedly affirmed support for people who wish it to have the option of medical assistance in dying. In the U.S., over the past decade, polls have ranged from 55-75% in support. But why are there still restrictions on who is eligible?
In the U.S., there is a hodgepodge legislation, as only some states have passed medical aid in dying laws. According to the U.S. group Death With Dignity, “every year, thousands of people who receive terminal diagnoses will consider uprooting their lives and moving to another state in order to avoid unnecessary suffering in death.”
For Canadians in the early stages of a capacity-eroding condition, recently expanded legislation is of little help. The organization, Dying With Dignity Canada, states, “For many of these people and those without a formal diagnosis — but who fear that they will develop a serious and incurable disease after they have lost capacity — the option to make an advance request is not currently allowed under the law.”
Why such nonsense when the answer is simple? It’s because vocal minorities are holding governments hostage, and politicians are lacking both courage and decency.
Consider the fully competent and uncoerced person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s, or Huntington’s disease who wishes the dignity of a managed end-of-life process. It’s a problem that does not require the intellect of Einstein.
But, in Canada, Members of Parliament and Senators are dithering.
Readers of this column have expressed frustration with legal restrictions. One wrote, “I do not want others to feed me, give me a cookie, and have someone play the accordion.” Or another, “Why must I suffer in bed day after day while someone changes my diapers?” Some related stories of loved ones suffering unbearable cancer pain for days, in spite of narcotics, before an excruciating death.
It’s sad that 25% of doctors involved in palliative care refuse to engage in medical assistance in death. These physicians claim their mission is to ease pain, not to hasten death. But surely it is cruel when patients want an end to life.
A public outcry can win the day. Right now, the minority is far louder than the majority. What’s truly sad is that permitting the majority the right to medical assistance in dying does nothing to harm the interests of the minority. No one is forcing those who don’t want medical assistance in dying to have it!
The Canadian Parliament has debated the issues carefully – and endlessly. The will of the people is clear. But still barriers persist.
To repeat, those who do not wish medical assistance to die need not have it. It cannot be a part of medical care for those who have not initiated the paperwork while competent to do so – and assisted death cannot proceed if there is a change of mind in those who started the process.
People who wish to die naturally in spite of pain should be allowed to do so. But they should not be allowed to prohibit the path of those who think otherwise.
Contact Dying With Dignity Canada or Death with Dignity in the U.S. for guidance on how to let government know you want the choice to be yours.