I’d been putting off this topic only because there is such an abundance of debate around it, and thus, so much information to consume and think about. But today, I am putting it out there: assisted suicide.
I have always supported assisted suicide for the terminally ill, and my feelings became stronger after FuBu and I watched “The Suicide Tourist” a few years ago by Canadian documentary filmmaker John Zaritsky. The film follows the story of Craig Ewert, an American living in the UK, suffering from a motor neuron illness, who chose to go to Switzerland to get help with ending his life (assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland). The film showed Ewert dying after drinking sedatives and turning off his ventilator. The entire process from the meetings with Dignitas to the final moment of life was handled with incredible respect and dignity. Of course the film was upsetting, but it certainly gave me an appreciation for how important it is to have these end-of-life conversations with loved ones.
I don’t proclaim to have the answers to this one; it is definitely not black and white. But when I read stories like the one about Maria Watson wanting to keep her 87-year-old husband Desmond alive – despite a year in hospital and with no long-term prospects of improvement – because it is against her religion, I can’t help but get angry – primarily at religion. Again, I know I said I would stay away from religion, but damn, it gets its nasty hooks into every facet of life, doesn’t it?
First of all, if religion offers you after-life in heaven which is supposed to be so glorious, wouldn’t you rather your husband was there than lying in a hospital bed completely unaware of his surroundings? Secondly, I hate that people use religion as a crutch. Is there any possibility, even the slightest, that Maria is being a teeny bit selfish here? I understand you don’t want to be alone – who does? But look at what you are putting this poor man through! How can this make you feel good about yourself?
I suppose the real dilemma with the Watsons’ story is that Desmond did not articulate his wishes while he still could, and therein lies the rub, so to speak. Without that, nobody wants to be held accountable for someone else’s life because then it becomes a legal issue.
So let’s revisit the Sue Rodriguez story (keep in mind: this was in 1992, so in 20 years, we have really made no progress on this debate). Rodriguez had been diagnosed with ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s disease). She took her fight for the right to die to Canada’s highest court, and made this compelling plea to members of Parliament in a video statement, “If I cannot give consent to my own death, whose body is this? Who owns my life?” With everything we know and have learned about what ALS does to one’s nervous system, how could we deny this woman her right to choose how to die, which she had expressly asked for? And yet we did, and so she had to deal with two more years of bearing witness to the complete deterioration of her body (and the destruction of her soul, I’m sure). No dignity there.
And while talking about how the associated costs of hospital and out-of-hospital care could have been better spent taking care of someone who could be saved sounds cold and callous, it is a harsh reality and we better face up to it.
Places like the Netherlands, Belgium, Oregon and Washington have been brave enough to openly debate the issue and lay some ground rules so that their citizens have parameters around which to make decisions that are considered legal. We all need to step up; we shouldn’t be talking about this for another 20 years. Have the conversations with your loved ones, too – it’s your life, and you own it.