Tuesday, 7 June 2016

My rant on doctor-assisted death

Time for my rant about doctor-assisted dying. It's everywhere in the news between people protesting the Me Before You movie and the supreme court ruling that it's currently legal in Canada (the deadline on Monday was for the government to pass a new law to regulate the practice, because they failed to do so, doctor assisted death is legal as the old law was ruled as unconstitutional).

Let's start with the movie. In 2013, I wrote a bit of a review on the Me Before You book by Jojo Moyes. To review (spoilers!), the book plot is basically that Will has decided to go through with doctor-assisted death in Switzerland after becoming paraplegic in a motorcycle accident but has agreed with his family to wait six months before doing so. During those six months, Lou is hired as his caregiver, they (unsurprisingly) fall in love but in the end he feels that he still doesn't want to live anymore and goes off to Switzerland. It's all very depressing and basically guaranteed to make you cry. And then there is a sequel After You that goes through the aftermath of the decision and how hard it was on Lou and his family.

However, having not seen the movie but listened to people on a podcast rant about it, apparently in the movie adaptation they change the ending. It becomes more that Will goes through with the doctor-assisted death because he loves Lou so much and doesn't want to be a burden to her (despite being quite wealthy and privileged) instead of it being something he had decided before he even met her.

Clearly, the new plot line has angered quite a few people in the disability community who are (rightfully, I think) angry that they are being portrayed as no more than a burden on those they love. It also preys on the fear that legalizing doctor-assisted death means that people with disabilities are going to be coerced into killing themselves to 'reduce the burden on their family'.

Which brings me to the current state in Canada where as of Monday, there is finally no law against doctor-assisted dying. This has become a point of contention with some people thinking that people with disabilities are now going to be murdered or coerced to kill themselves. I'm not sure those people realize how small of minority of the population this is going to affect.

In Canada, if the current bill passes with no amendments, someone like Will who is paraplegic but has no terminal condition, would not be eligible for doctor-assisted death. Wanting to die is not enough. For that there are psychologists and anti-depression medications. I know there is current debate over if people with unresponsive-to-treatment mental health conditions would be allowed and that remains to be seen as mental health conditions are not considered terminal.

I think that anyone who is dying and suffering should have the right to end their suffering as they choose. Let's move beyond the old 'suicide is a sin' religious nonsense and let people be able to decide for themselves. Doctor-assisted death doesn't take away from life, it doesn't mean that people with disabilities are anything 'less than', it simply gives people a choice to die on their own terms. If anything, it gives people with disabilities more power. It takes away other people deciding what is best and gives them the power over their own lives. It's empowering to have that control.

I know if my lungs start rejection and I'm in chronic pain and terminal, I would like to know that I can end my life when I want. If I have no quality of life (which is determined by me), I don't want my life to drag out while I wait for my lungs to fail. Quality over quantity and for far too long the medical community has made people extend their lives for much longer than is humane.

I know there is a lot of debate around this issue about who should be allowed doctor-assisted death and when but by legalizing doctor assisted death, it gives hope to people with terminal illness. It gives them a voice and choice at the end of their lives. Everyone has a limit with what they can handle and no one should be able to make that choice for another person. No one should get to decide that some else has to be in pain.


Dave said...

The assisted dying debate is similar to the abortion debate that happened in the 80's and 90's. The pro choice side claimed that the woman had the right to make decisions as it was her body, while the pro life side defended the right to live of the unborn. Both are emotionally charged and have deep religious overtones.

With assisted dying, there is so much practical sense in having a protocol for the process. Nobody is getting out of this life alive, so if you are terminally ill and in great suffering is it not better to be able to make life/death decisions yourself rather than have a court or guardian do so for you? I'm not familiar with any of the provisions of the proposed legislation but anything is a good start. It looks, however, that many "experts" think it will lose any constitutional challenge. First steps....

Heather McGrath said...

Well said, Allie. I feel palliative care is still a form of assisted suicide, although not a very humane one. With the deprivation of necessities, it becomes a waiting process and for some, a slow process- difficult for all.