I am so happy (relieved maybe?… “happy” isn’t quite the right word) that Quebec is pressing ahead — finally, after several false starts across the nation — with its physician-assisted-euthanasia laws, protecting from criminal prosecution doctors who give patients all-options-on-the-table end-of-life counseling and ultimately assistance if needed. I know it can be hard to understand for a healthy person — and I admit that for a long time I was opposed to euthanasia (when my headspace was more in the “mental illness leading to suicide” realm) for any reasons because I was so much of the opinion that there’s always a way to fix things, and any option is better than death. But that’s just not true in far too many cases. The fact is there are many people suffering from conditions that don’t offer an acceptable quality of life either in the present, or in some nightmarish immediate future, have no cure or reasonable treatment options, and have no chance of getting better.
As most of you know, in my own case, I’ve been fighting and trying to survive a condition that is not only physically and mentally debilitating — and progressively so — but is incredibly painful. There isn’t a single moment for the last at last three years where the primary experience hasn’t been pain. Imagine that for a moment. We forgive prisoners at Gitmo when they off themselves after being tortured for few weeks. Why do we expect the ill to suffer nobly and indefinitely? Imagine being tortured every single day, from the moment you wake to the moment you somehow get to sleep. Every day of your life, every moment of every day, and not only that but you’re guaranteed that every day it will get worse. Yes, from time to time hope gets dangled in front of you — a new treatment for the condition, a new painkiller, whatever… but none of them work. The pain keeps getting worse. The painkillers, while they may reduce the pain slightly, don’t come close to stopping it, not even long enough to take a single peaceful breath, and bring their own health problems as well — to say nothing of the “war on drugs” putting all sorts of new limitations on your life, drastically cutting down the choices you have in front of you. Your body and mind keep getting chipped away at. Every day you live with both the horror of what is happening to you at that moment, and the even worse horror that you know that it will only get worse. It’s not unreasonable that at some point, knowing that any time you have left before the disease finally runs its course and kills you (and of course the cruelest ones take their time killing you), that you might say “enough is enough.” Even just knowing that option was there would help so much, giving you some small amount of control in a life where control is increasingly taken away.
Under the current system, patients in my condition — and I’m sure there are a lot of us, and more than would publicly admit it, because we’re brought up being shamed into never talking about this stigmatized act — can’t even talk to their doctors about the way they feel, lest they risk being institutionalized, locked up, imprisoned against their will in order to “protect them from themselves”, and risk limitations being put on pain medication that they could overdose on. Conversely, doctors who do speak honestly with patients put themselves at legal risk, both civil and criminal. Patients are backed into a desperate and grotesque corner, forced to consider their options without anyone to talk to, and in the end, often without even a peaceful way out — instead of being helped to slip away quietly into some eternal slumber, they end up either overdosing — which is often unsuccessful, bringing new medical consequences, to say nothing of adding medication restrictions to other patients in the system, or choosing a violent, often painful method like hanging or shooting, adding shock and trauma to the life of the sadness of the loved one that likely discovers their corpse. It’s incredibly cruel to everyone involve, heaping more pain onto a situation that is already painful beyond description.
This euthanasia bill — you can read a little about the latest steps here — still has a long way to go before it’s law, let alone acted on, and it will take even longer before it creeps across other provinces let alone the federal system (and around the world), but it’s a big, big step in the right direction. Obviously in an ideal world, we would never solve someone’s problems by helping them die — the idea is abhorrent — but as the old saying goes, “there are worse things than dying”…
From one of my favorite Byron poems, aptly titled Euthanasia…
When Time, or soon or late, shall bring
The dreamless sleep that lulls the dead,
Oblivion! may thy languid wing
Wave gently o’er my dying bed!
No band of friends or heirs be there,
To weep, or wish, the coming blow:
No maiden, with dishevelled hair,
To feel, or feign, decorous woe.
But silent let me sink to earth,
With no officious mourners near:
I would not mar one hour of mirth,
Nor startle friendship with a tear.
Then lonely be my latest hour,
Without regret, without a groan?
For thousands Death hath ceas’d to lower,
And pain been transient or unknown.
Not allowing euthanasia just heaps more cruelty onto the lives of people who have experienced nothing but cruelty until they have nothing left… The sooner this bill starts setting the way for Canada the better.