“A free and independent choice” — Support for Canada’s assisted dying law
Personal Stories | August 26, 2022 | Dying With Dignity Canada
Elizabeth’s life is full, but her future is uncertain. She lives with severe scoliosis, stenosis and arthritis of the spine. While she is currently able to manage the pain and reduced mobility, Elizabeth’s conditions will progress and cause more pain and suffering over time. She supports Canada’s assisted dying law and the recent change that a person’s death does not have to be reasonably foreseeable (Track 2)* to access medical assistance in dying (MAID), because she, too, would like access to MAID should her pain become intolerable.
Elizabeth is a retired lawyer and has been keeping up to date on the progression of Canada’s MAID legislation.
“The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled that assisted dying is a fundamental human right in Section 7 of our Charter – life, liberty and security of person – much less the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 3). Once it’s a right under Section 7, it’s a right, it doesn’t say ‘save and except for.’ I do believe that death is a part of life and that this is about suffering; not mild suffering, but seriously in pain, without quality-of-life situations that merit this type of discussion.”
As someone who lives with a disabling condition, we asked Elizabeth about concerns from the disability community around coercion and misuse of assisted dying.
The safeguards are designed to ensure that the decision being made is a free and independent choice.
“I believe the safeguards are sufficient for Track 2 patients. The two independent assessors, one of whom has knowledge of the condition the person has, and the 90-day assessment period ensure that the person accessing MAID has really thought it through and is aware of the alternatives that are available to them. It gives them time to reflect and consider what their life would be like without MAID. The safeguards are designed to ensure that the decision being made is a free and independent choice.”
She goes on to say, “People may try to access MAID because their quality of life is poor due to a lack of social supports, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to receive MAID, and that’s the whole point of building in safeguards, so we are not using death to sidestep our obligations as a society.”
Elizabeth’s experience caring for her father after a severe stroke has also impacted her support of MAID. “After the stroke, he was only able to move his right arm. He was aware of what was going on but was unable to properly communicate. It was very frustrating for him. After being in hospital a significant period of time, he took the one good hand that he had and covered his mouth to motion that he was refusing food and water. It took tremendous courage on his part, but it was a horrible thing to watch, and this is exactly what I want to avoid.”
Elizabeth brings an important perspective to the topic of medical assistance in dying. “We’re talking about the question ‘what is life?’ We have two separate words in the English language – life and existence. Life is more than existence; it has quality and that’s what Section 7 is about – life, liberty and security of the person. So, to say that the amount of suffering that is intolerable to an individual human being doesn’t matter, we are asking them to simply exist. And then, like my father, we are forcing people to take matters into their own hands. Should my circumstances change and my condition causes me to suffer intolerably, I do not want to come to the same end as he! I am passionate about MAID and its availability in Canada.”
*Eligibility and MAID tracks can only be confirmed through the assessment process.
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