The following account of my wife's final illness is an effort to focus attention on the Supreme Court’s decision on physician assisted dying, not to be confused with suicide.
Lorraine first started having dizziness around February 2013. By mid-April, her balance was off and she had pains down her right leg. She had already started physio and medication, but nothing seemed to help.
Her unsteadiness worsened and by May, she needed a cane and assistance to walk. Her regression had started to speed up. By month’s end, she required a four-wheeled walker and assistance just to stand.
In June, Lorraine was admitted to the hospital for tests. At this point, her condition appeared to get visibly worse on a daily basis. She was losing more of her faculties every day.
In July, we finally found out what was wrong. After test results ruled out all sorts of possible causes, Lorraine was diagnosed with probable Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. It’s a neurological condition that causes a person’s brain to deteriorate very quickly. It is a fatal disease for which there is no cure.
By early August, Lorraine had lost just about all her faculties and became completely bedridden. All treatment had been stopped and care was given to keep her as comfortable as possible.
Then I told her that the next year, on the same week in early September, she was back in Cape Breton preparing for our wedding. She looked straight at me when I reminded her that I had to drive all the way to Cape Breton to hold her hand and say I love you. Her face radiated a smile I will never forget, and that was the last smile I saw.The last true response I received from her was on September 6. That day, I was able to remind her that our daughter Mary had completed her first week as principal of her school. Sixty-two years ago that same week, Lorraine had completed her first week as art director of the schools in the city. We did not know each other at that time.
George and Lorraine Evans, posing with kittens in the 1980s.
The last time I saw Lorraine, my knees went weak — just as they had 62 years ago, when I met her for the first time. Her body had stiffened and "froze" in position. There was no sign of communication, but her body was in severe convulsive distress. Absolutely horrific to watch.
Lorraine could not swallow so the hospital removed the IV as she wasn't getting any nourishment. The staff informed us, as gently as possible, that we just have to wait until she died from starvation.
At that time I could have called the medics and ordered that she be "hooked up to keep her going.” But I could not say, “Please release her by giving her a needle to gently stop her heart and give us all peace.”
Lorraine Margaret Evans died two days later, on September 18, 2013.
I hope Lorraine’s story will stimulate legal, medical and ethical dialogue over physician assisted dying. I believe we, as a society, need the Supreme Court and its decisions. And I hope we can convince our politicians reflect this compassionate reality in new legislation.
There are some who believe that life is a precious gift and must be preserved, protected and prolonged as long as possible. The key word here is "prolonged.” I believe there comes a time when death can be a very precious gift.
For all that is sacred and humane, let us fix our arbitrary laws. It's our life. It should be our legal choice.
Watch this moving video of George's granddaughter Hannah singing to Lorraine in the hospital to soothe her.