...but what about assisted death?

This post follows one I wrote last week on suicide; usually the fatal result of a mental illness such as clinical depression. But this week I’m thinking and writing about a different kind of suicide: the death a rational person chooses because of their incurable poor, and usually declining, physical condition.

What “rational,” “incurable,” and “physical” mean are all debatable. But I’m talking about a growing movement in Canada for discussion about what’s often called either assisted suicide, assisted death, or euthanasia. The movement is sometimes referred to as “dying with dignity.”

What did Donald Low, a physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, and Gillian Bennett, a retired psychotherapist from British Columbia, have in common?

They both suffered from fatal diseases, and they both went out appealing to Canadians to please consider the right for anyone to “die with dignity.”

Donald died without outside intervention, despite his wishes (because euthanasia is illegal in most of Canada, although the law is changing in Quebec). Watch him talk about the issue here, a week before his death:

But Gillian committed suicide because of the dementia that was getting worse and rapidly taking over who she once was. She thought it through in detail and discussed it with her family. A website was launched on the day she died: deadatnoon.com. It includes all of Gillian’s written reasoning and explanations.

The Healthy Debate blog posted that their most shared article this year is the one that thoroughly explains the difference between euthanasia and palliative care. This is a hotly contested and debated issue in Canada right now. The Canadian Medical Association also just discussed this at a big meeting in Ottawa.

Before she died, Gillian Bennett wrote: “Understand that I am giving up nothing that I want by committing suicide. All I lose is an indefinite number of years of being a vegetable in a hospital setting, eating up the country’s money but having not the faintest idea of who I am.” Pictures and video of her family discussing her death are on the Vancouver Sun.

Donald Low’s health was failing at a much faster pace and he did not take the dramatic step of suicide. But he did say: “What worries me is how I’m going to die. What the end is going to look like. […] Why make people suffer for no reason when there’s an alternative?”

G.W.

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