FOULDS: Is it truly better to force suffering to the inevitable end?

Playing God? One could counter that we are playing God from the moment we take an Aspirin to battle a headache.

It was 13 years ago this week that my mom died, the cancer that invaded her lungs six months earlier finally prevailing over the entire body of the woman who helped create life for seven children.

My mom was lucky in that she was able to spend all her remaining moments at home, in the townhouse purchased in 1970 and in which we were all raised.

From her diagnosis in the fall of 1998 to her death in the spring of 1999, mom was almost the picture of bedridden contentment. Her weight had dropped alarmingly and she was barely mobile enough to make to the washroom and back.

But, she was intensely lucid right up to a week before she died. She had her plush bed, her beloved books and magazines and a TV straight ahead when she tired of reading.

She had her Boost energy drinks and a parade of visitors every day.

She also had regular visits from a nurse and am IV drip right next to her bed, filled with pain medication so the final weeks and months would not be as painful as she feared.

We never had to think about the unthinkable, about whether it would be better to hasten death rather than watch mom endure wracking pain waiting for the inevitable.

As far as I could recall, even during the final week when mom fell into a sudden comatose state, the pain was never that severe.

However, I have sat next to the beds of people in agony, people who were dying and whose inevitable death was to be a relief to family and friends — and to the person on the bed, filled with unbearable pain.

For those people, last week’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling on physician-assisted suicide is encouraging.

I have never understood the logic in waiting for death to take a person while that person is being tortured by a disease.

I have never understood why suggesting mercy killing draws such passionate objection.

It is better to force the endurance of suffering than to end the pain and deliver the person to their destination sooner?

How is that better?

Sheila Tucker, the lawyer who represented those seeking to strike down the law banning physician-assisted suicide, referred during court proceedings to a number of experts in jurisdictions that have allowed such deaths.

According to expert affidavits, none of the jurisdictions — not Oregon, not Switzerland, not the Netherlands, not Belgium and not Washington state — have experienced a flurry of such deaths; nor has there been any indication that the legality of the practice has led to other vulnerable people being killed; nor have suicides in general risen in those jurisdictions.

Those are the three main areas of concern put forward by those opposed to physician-assisted suicide, including Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of B.C., and the Christian Legal Fellowship.

However, as was noted in Justice Lynn Smith’s decision, there exists in Canada the right of patients to refuse to be resuscitated in a hospital if they stop breathing or if their heart stops.

That decision is made by the patient when they are fully capable of making such a decision and the legal standard governing the practice is informed consent, which is precisely what would be used in the cases of assisted suicide.

The issue truly can be approached in a simple and clear manner — the person who wishes to be euthanized if their medical condition reaches an intolerable point for them must be the only person to make that decision, and that decision must be made well before the disease incapacitates them.

There are also arguments from those who believe in God, who contend that assisted suicide is a form of man playing God.

Based on that argument, one could counter that we are playing God from the moment we take an Aspirin to battle a headache.

Christopher Foulds is editor of Kamloops This Week. His email address is here. His blogs can be found here and here. Follow him on Twitter here.





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