In Mortal Danger?

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Guest blog by Derek Miedema, researcher at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada in Ottawa

On October 10 the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld Canada’s ban on assisted suicide and euthanasia. This decision overturned a lower-court ruling of June 2013 which would have made both legal. This was a relief to me both personally and professionally. I was relieved personally as the son and twin brother of people with disabilities, and professionally as a researcher at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada.

I was relieved because euthanasia and assisted suicide paint over the profundity of life with a disability or illness with the veneer of death. This shortchanges those of us who live with a disability and pressures us to die early.

Let me explain from my own experience.

I was born the fifth of five boys and a twin. My twin brother’s name is Brian. He, as best we can understand, suffered lack of oxygen at birth resulting in extensive brain damage and cerebral palsy. Brian can’t walk, can’t talk, can only see shadows at best and has the mental capacity of a three-month-old.

He moved to a group home when we were 18 years old. His care and feeding were becoming too much for my parents. He wears diapers and has been fed through a g-tube since that time. Brian relies on others to lift him in and out of his wheelchair.

All this to say that Brian can’t do much, but he also has a profound ability to be human. His smile lights up rooms. He has helped us (his brothers) to be more compassionate toward the vulnerable in our society. I hope that he lives long enough for my young children to learn the same lesson from him.

In 1994 my father was diagnosed with ALS, the same illness that took the lives of Gloria Taylor, Sue Rodriguez, and Lou Gehrig. My father had been a licensed mechanic and car dealer. ALS meant early retirement, which afforded him the time to read the Genome Project cover to cover twice. He also read through one brother’s PhD thesis until his hands couldn’t turn the pages anymore.

He lived reasonably well until almost the end, but he died suffocating as his lungs grew weaker. Suffice to say it was difficult. Quality palliative care would have made for a much better ending if it had been available.

We learned from our parents the beauty of a husband and wife devoted to one another. The care that mom gave to dad was, as one of her brothers said at my dad’s funeral, “beyond science.” We learned that increasing disability didn’t mean the end of dignity. Each loss of ability meant adjusting to a “new normal” for each of us. Through it all we knew that hurrying death along would have short-circuited these and other profound processes of letting go.

Look, then, at what’s happening in the Netherlands: a widow in her seventies is euthanized because she’s going blind. Legalizing assisted suicide (someone gets the medication, you take it) or euthanasia (someone puts the poison in your body) would have horrible consequences for Canadians with disabilities, the elderly, and the chronically ill.

If my dad lived in the Netherlands, how different would his experience have been if his ALS specialist doctors had offered to kill him?

In Belgium deaf twins were euthanized because they couldn’t bear the thought of going blind. I can’t help but think how my own twin would fare in that country.

Cases like this scream loud and long that life with a disability is simply not worth living and that death is the answer. That is a very deadly lie. For the sake of vulnerable Canadians this lie must not gain the force of law in Canada.

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Participant

Amen and Amen!  If assisted suicide and euthanasia had been legalized 30 years ago, there would probably be no need for nursing homes, and I wouldn't have had the opportunity or privilege to spend 231/2 years of my nursing career doing the best job I ever had - helping seniors with various disabilities to have the best quality of life possible within the circumstances that they found themselves in and until their life on earth ended.  Even from their wheelchair or bed in a nursing home, these folks have much to teach us and share with us.  This is aside from the fact that assisted suicide and euthanasia go against the commandment to not kill.  We all need to speak out against this evil!

Guide

Elly, yes! Same with my mom whose journey with dementia lasted about 12 years. Though difficult in some ways, we still had a lot of good times together during those years, and mom shared her love with others in her own way nearly to the end of her life! What a loss if some doctor had decided that she did not have sufficient quality of life and euthanized her.

Guide

John, thanks for your comments. To me there is a vast difference between ceasing to prolong life by removing life support and actively snuffing out a life using poison or some other means. My understanding is that palliative care is so much better nowadays that nearly all people can face death without fear of painful suffering. A couple years ago, I wrote a reflection on the death of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. In response, Rev. George Vander Weit articulated some of the same arguments you make, and he made some additional points as well.