Right-to-die movement wants new Canadian laws
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Wednesday, September 30, 2009 10:00PM EDT
A chronically ill Canadian woman who lives in constant pain is spending her life's savings to travel to Switzerland so a clinic can assist her in suicide.
It will cost Mary $30,000 for travel, clinic fees and other expenses to end her life.
Mary, who doesn't want her last name used for this story, is 89 and suffers from spinal stenosis. She numbs the chronic pain with medication and has been left almost immobile. She can do little for herself and is confined to lie flat in bed, or to get around by wheelchair.
"The choice that's in front of me is that I just can't do anything at all," Mary told CTV News. "My vision is going downhill, my hearing is going downhill and as far as I can see it, there is absolutely no quality of life in this at all."
Mary is dependent on others to carry her around and complete simple tasks, such as turn on the television.
"So I woke up one Sunday night... and I said to myself, 'You do not like the situation you're in and what are you going to do about it,'" she said.
"Well, what you're going to do about it is, contact the Right to Die Society and move ahead with that and see if you can go to Switzerland and deal with the problem because that's the way I want to go. I cannot live with living on my back and not being able to move my hands or anything."
Mary's children reluctantly support her decision.
"I've thought about it and...we're all going to die sometime and the difference here is that we have a date. And so I think that I'm okay with taking her over and being with her," her daughter Diane said.
"I wish it could be in our own country and we could all be together and all of my siblings be together with her, but that's not possible at this point."
Assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal in Canada, but legal in Switzerland and the Netherlands. Both countries are popular destinations for terminally ill Europeans hoping to end their suffering. At a Swiss clinic, people's applications must be approved in advance.
There are two private member's bills before Canada's House of Commons on assisted suicide and euthanasia, one that advocates decriminalizing them, and one that seeks to ban them.
If the bills pass during votes that are scheduled for this week, they will be put forward to committee for further review. The overwhelming majority of private member's bills do not pass.
'Not the right time to do it'
This November, the Quebec College of Physicians and Surgeons will further the debate the issue when it releases a discussion paper that is expected to encourage the federal government to legalize euthanasia.
But Dr. Jose Pereira, director of palliative care at the Elisabeth Bruyere Hospital in Ottawa, says now is not the time to legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide in Canada.
"I think that at this time, it's not the right time to do it, and I say that because there are several elements that are missing still," Pereira said. "The first one is that in Canada, we still have many, many gaps in services related to palliative care and not all Canadians have access to good palliative care."
According to Pereira, simply legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide without enacting iron-clad regulations could lead to a number of problems, including:
- cuts to palliative care for terminally ill patients
- ending the lives of people who are depressed or isolated who could be treated with appropriate counselling
- ending lives without required written consent forms, as has happened in the Netherlands
Pereira also says that in some jurisdictions in Switzerland, advocates want nursing home residents to be able to choose to die, even though the initial premise of right-to-die laws was to alleviate the suffering of people with progressive, chronic illnesses.
"So one of the concerns that I have is that it's very difficult to put in fool-proof safeguards around this and I think we should really focus on finding other ways of addressing the burden of suffering," Perreira said.
Mary has received the letter from Switzerland, confirming she can travel there to end her life.
"I look forward to ending it all before I become nothing but an ironing board in a bed," she said.
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip