Editoral: Leaving end-of-life care to the individual

Last week, the Special Joint Committee on Assisted-Physician Dying released its report and recommendations on Canada’s new euthanasia laws.

Last week, the Special Joint Committee on Assisted-Physician Dying released its report and recommendations on what should be included in Canada’s new euthanasia laws. The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the existing law just over a year ago and parliamentarians have only a few months to table and enact new legislation. I’ll leave it to the politicians to decide the conditions under which someone can choose to enlist a physician to help end their life. The focus of this editorial pertains specifically to those who may wish to impose their value systems on this most personal of choices.

As I look at my family tree, one of the branches has escalating incidences of dementia while another has a history of cancer (oops, my life insurance premiums just went up). Like many, I have seen relatives suffer in the throes of these diseases. While in his late 60s, my grandfather was diagnosed with a rare form of bone marrow cancer. Hospitalized for most of the last year of his life, the health professionals kept him alive for far longer than was necessary. He went from a healthy 180-pound man to someone I didn’t recognize, a shell of his former self, who begged for death for months before his passing. There was no dignity during his final days, or months, for that matter; only an elongated and avoidable period of suffering.

I have discussed my feelings about doctor-assisted suicide with my family and will be amending my will once the new legislation is passed. If and when the time comes to face a fate similar to my relatives, my plans will be in place. If treatment with a favourable prognosis is available, I will pursue it. If, however, the only option left is an extension of my life with deteriorating quality and increasing discomfort, then I’ve made my choice while of sound body and mind.

This essay discusses my own personal choice; it was not written to impose my values on anyone else. I respectfully ask that as physician-assisted suicide is legalized, and earnest discussions begin around end-of-life care, that all of us remain respectful of the values of each individual.