The Right to Die

Stand back. This is a rant.

You have to wonder what kind of society you live in when you have the right, even if you are a psychopath, to buy and maintain an arsenal of machine guns, but you don’t have the right, even if you are suffering from a ghastly and excruciatingly painful disease that leaves you in a vegetative or demented state, to a simple, dignified death.

This is what happens when you have gutless, not-very-intelligent governments that are constantly being played by self-righteous religious groups, terrifying politicians that any right-to-die legislation (which now has to use the euphemism MAID — medical assistance in death — to avoid triggering the sensitive) will inevitably result in confused people dying after they’d changed their minds about wanting to, or the “legalized murder” of old people by greedy heirs or “lazy” caregivers.

If we applied such standards anywhere else, we would not be allowed to drive cars, since there is a risk that they might be deliberately or carelessly used by a few people to cause injury or death. It’s madness. Of course right-to-die laws could be abused by a small number, but the solution to that is to pass the laws and then charge the abusers (you know, like we do with drunk driving laws), not to sit on your hands and through inaction punish the innocent. Religious zealots, in cahoots with a clueless medical profession and a terrified legal profession, are holding the rest of the world hostage to their ideology. Their message is: We don’t want you to be able to end your life, no matter what. Suffer.

Senator Pamela Wallen tried to fix it. She rejected the Canadian government’s utterly inadequate rewrite of Canada’s right-to-die laws, not only because it’s cruel and inhumane and will lead to untold unnecessary human suffering, but because it’s patently unconstitutional — as the courts have already ruled, in rejecting the current law, which is equally lacking in compassion and backbone, and which the ‘rewritten’ law essentially restates with a few weasel words. She proposed several amendments to strengthen the right to die, which were passed, by a nearly 2:1 margin, by the Senate in a free vote.

Our dim-wit Prime Minister rejected Pamela’s amendments outright, even stalling off a step in the right direction for some sufferers of terminal psychological illnesses for two years (to let the next government deal with it before it becomes law). The man is totally without courage or character.

And his fucking lackey Justice Minister said simply he “does not believe we are entirely ready” to safely provide assisted dying for people with mental illnesses. Really. He plans to install “panels” (ie selected “experts” who will deep-six Pamela’s amendments) over the next two years to ensure they never see the light of day. The CMHA, in the pocket of right-to-life groups, said more bluntly “Until the health-care system adequately responds to the mental health needs of Canadians, assisted dying should not be an option — not now and not two years from now”. Guess who’s going to be on the “panels”?

Please think about that before you give money to “health” organizations like the CMHA that have an anti-choice agenda.

Like Pamela, I have a substantial history of Alzheimer’s in my family. I’m about to turn 70. My father and uncle, in their very early 80s, went through years of hell. Hallucinations. Paranoia about medical and support staff regularly killing and torturing other “inmates” overnight. So much terror about his invalid wife that he almost killed himself trying to “escape” to rescue her, since he couldn’t understand why, despite his warnings, his children weren’t doing so. Reduced to long meanderings about his bowel movements and asking desperately for help with severe constipation, brought about by the many meds he was “treated” with to keep him calm and doped up. Being expelled from care homes that deemed him “too violent and unpredictable” to be kept anywhere without constraint.

Thanks to Canada’s new and still medieval laws, that’s probably me in 10-15 years. I already show some early signs of cognitive problems. And nothing I can do — no advance directive, no declaration of sympathetic decision-makers who I trust to carry out my wishes, no passionate blog article — can prevent it. The doctors and lawyers can just shrug and say “Our hands are tied.” Which will be ironic given that by then I will probably be sedated and my hands strapped to a gurney.

I’m not asking a lot. I just want to be able to write, now, when I’m clear and level-headed, a statement that says the following, and have it respected when I’m not:

  1. I’ve had a full and remarkably healthy life. When there are signs that that period of my life is ending, I want to be able to give someone I trust the nod, and give them the right from that moment on to tell the doctor “It’s time” and have the doctor promptly respect that decision. You know, the same courtesy we provide for pets who are clearly suffering, physically or psychologically.
  2. I want that to happen before I lose my dignity. When I say I don’t recognize someone I know really well, then that would be a good sign that that’s happening. Even if I may have “lucid moments” after that. And fuck the preachers and patronizing politicians and social do-gooders who say “But he still probably has some good moments left! There’s still a human in there, he’s just confused. If he were not so sick, he wouldn’t want to end his life.” Fuck them all to hell.
  3. I have signed a do-not-resuscitate and do-not-intubate order and written an advance directive. But doctors and lawyers and courts do not have to honour it. I want them to be required by their professional oath and by the law to honour it. My body, my word on what happens to it. I am outraged that our government disagrees. This Prime Minister is the son of the courageous and competent leader who said, famously, that “there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”. His son clearly believes it has a place in the nation’s hospital bedrooms.
  4. My father died when he simply refused to eat or drink. Even in his deepening madness, he knew there was a simple, compassionate way to end his own suffering. And let me make this clear, despite the rhetoric and propaganda from the right-to-life scare-mongering zealots: Dying from dehydration and hunger is almost always a peaceful way to go, and certainly no more painful than knowing you’re losing it and that it will only get much worse. I’ve done my homework. But my father shouldn’t have had to resort to that. He had the same orders and directives I have, and a compassionate and sympathetic family. And still, because of the law, that was his only way out. If he was about to die from a “physical” disease, he would have been better off. His wife (my stepmother) lived over a decade on force-feeding and intubation, unable to move, speak or do anything for herself; the look on her face, before it became simply blank, was one of endless confusion and distress. A decade of root canal would have been more humane.

If, a decade or two from now, the people I’ve designated to make decisions for me when I’m incompetent, have to act in that capacity, they have a ghastly choice: They can honour what they know I want, and risk possible criminal charges and imprisonment. Or they can buckle under to the right-to-lifers and obey the law, knowing it is the opposite of what I want, and that they’re condemning me to a prison from which there is no escape, other than the one my father was sane and courageous enough to take. No one should be put in that position.

We’ve been saying this for decades, since the current PM’s father made his statement and we tried to prevail upon him to add the right to die to his bill ending the criminalization of homosexuality and abortion in Canada. He had to fight foaming-at-the-mouth Conservatives just to accomplish what he did. It would be a wonderful legacy to his name if his son would muster up some courage and blaze the trail for the right to die with dignity. It’s not a big ask.

I should note that Canada is far from unique in its right-to-die laws. In much of the US and the rest of the world, the laws are even more restrictive, and in some places getting worse. Millions, perhaps billions, will face these same choices, dread, and terror. All because one ancient religious ideology continues to prevail over common sense.

I’ve read a lot of heart- and gut-wrenching stories, some of them dating back decades, from people caught in this ghastly human-caused quandary, and the suffering, guilt, and criminal consequences that it produces.

There’s a chance that, in ten or twenty years, someone may stumble on this post, and do a little research, and realize that my death, and the situation for those I trusted to bring my life to a dignified and peaceful end, was every bit as horrific as my father’s, and as horrific as the agonizing slow deaths of so many millions of others. If that situation should change, I will rewrite this post. I don’t expect I will have to.

Please, when you next vote, make this issue one you make your decision on, and get a clear, recorded affirmation from your candidates that everyone has the right to die in peace and with dignity. Otherwise, it will just go on, and on.


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11 Responses to The Right to Die

  1. Michael Dowd says:

    Just read your post aloud to Connie and it moved me to tears.
    We’re right there with you, brother!
    ~ Michael (and Connie)
    Our view of mortality/death:
    Connie’s Covid legacy pledge:

  2. Joe Clarkson says:

    Agree with everything you say, except the part about dying of dehydration being “a peaceful way to go”. I helped care for my father-in-law when he was dying in home “hospice” care and had to use heavy doses of morpheine sulfate for pain from dehydration. It would have been far preferable to just give him a sufficiently high dose of a powerful opiate to end his life peacefully. Of course, that would have been considered murder in the state I live in, so we just watched him slowly die of thirst. It took about a week. I live on a small farm and would never put an animal through that process (in fact it would be criminal if I did). The contradiction is hard to accept.

    The terrible thing about the present legal situation is that people who don’t want to end up in a position of medical helplessness must kill themselves while they still have the ability to do it themselves. This means that one has to err on the side of losing part of one’s life, a part that might be entirely tolerable except for the fact that diminishing faculties might mean one could be trapped in a medically induced hellscape. There are regular news stories about couples who commit “murder”-suicide to avoid having to deal with end-of-life trauma. What a thing to make elderly people do!

    For decades, Oregon has allowed assisted suicide, but the person still has to be able to swallow the fatal sedative themselves. If you can’t do that, you’re stuck. Still, Oregon’s laws are a step in the right direction. The suicide rate actually went down after the assisted suicide law was passed. People then knew that they could wait and not have to kill themselves early.

    The whole situation sucks, but with the kind of people and politics we have here in the US, it’s to be expected. Sorry to hear that it’s the same in Canada.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Yes, thanks Joe. It’s a dreadful quandary. I think in many cases health-care providers will take steps to reduce pain when a victim of today’s laws chooses not to eat or drink as their only means to end their life.

    My guess is that, as the ‘baby boomers’ reach their 80s, and situations like these skyrocket, there will finally have to be a reckoning over these barbaric laws, and we will finally be allowed to make decisions about what happens with our own bodies. It’s interesting to speculate on why so many normally reasonable people are so enraged at the idea that someone might, quite sensibly, decide to end their own life. I guess it might be guilt, or an admission of failure, or just plain fear.

  4. Michael Dowd says:

    P.S. If you’re not already familiar with it, an excellent resource related to taking one’s life honorably via not eating and drinking is this book: “The Best Way to Say Goodbye: A Legal, Peaceful Choice at the End of Life”, by Stanley A. Terman, PhD, MD:

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Excellent. Thanks Michael.

  6. Michael Dowd says:

    Two more (I own them both and also sent them to my 83-year old dad)…
    here are two other excellent books re taking one’s own life…

    “The Peaceful Pill Handbook”

    “Five Last Acts (Second edition)”

  7. Brutus says:

    Shaking my head in sorrow but not disbelief. Although much attention is paid to the mere fact of life, especially at the margins (beginning and end), far too little attention is paid to the quality or conditions that might make not wanting to live anymore preferable to ongoing suffering. People obviously take extreme measures to end their lives in the absence of more humane alternatives. Like Dave, I expect this issue to become more prominent as boomers age and take end-of-life decisions into their own hands rather than defaulting to one government or another refusing to allow self-determination. What motivates that refusal is beyond me.

    Aside: just saw video updates of conditions in Los Angeles at Skid Row and Venice Beach. It’s quite incredible that society has deteriorated to the point that tens of thousands of people are homeless, with have little prospect of regaining normal lives. Like the millions of unemployed (many soon to be homeless as well), they not just discarded but driven into drug abuse, suffering, and madness.

  8. zalm says:

    Well, you’ve ranted. And slandered everyone in and around the caring profession to boot. Using tropes that are decades old as stories about your father you claim you’ll end up just like, you justify you views of everyone involved and especially those uninvolved, instead of going out to find out what the future really is going to be like for you. Try going into a care home and making peoples’ lives a little brighter with your presence rather than ranting from behind the door. There’s growth for everyone in that course. There’s none in your rant.

  9. JC says:

    No wondering why there is such zeal for firearms in the US.
    Suicide – it’s their predominant use.

  10. mattbg says:

    Good points. Especially after just having seen “The Father”. What do you think about the provider side of this argument? For example, if the professional who would carry out your request does not want to do it? Should they be required to, as medical professionals? If not, what if there is no one in your area who does want to do it?

  11. Dave Pollard says:

    Matt, I think this is an issue for professional regulatory bodies to manage. Here in BC, a seniors’ home owned by an evangelical group refused to honour right-to-die requests or allow practitioners who did MAID the credentials to do work on the premises. The BC Government pointed out that allowing MAID (in limited circumstances, on request) was a requirement of their licence to run a senior home in BC. The evangelicals refused so their charter was revoked and their right to grants and deductions as a licenced home terminated. They could have run it as a private operation, but couldn’t raise private funds to run it that way, so they finally terminated their lease and it’s now run by the government.

    Lest liberals cheer this too loudly, there was another recent case where a women’s shelter faced the same delicensing and defunding when they refused, under a new BC law, to hire trans people who appeared male but self-identified as female. Their Board and staff unanimously said that would be traumatizing to some of their residents. The BC government refused to back down, so the shelter is now run entirely on funds donated by private donors. To mix metaphors, it’s a slippery knife that cuts both ways.

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