“It was the best of times and the worst of times”. This is the first sentence in Dicken’s book,”A Tale of Two Cities” about the French revolution. The same could be said today. Never has there been a greater exodus of people escaping wars and poverty. And never before has there been a greater need for an updated living will, whether you live in Canada or the U.S. One that pulls no punches on how we wish to end our lives.
I have a personal Interest in this column. Consequently, it’s a hard one to write, as no one wants to discuss their demise. But as a physician in my 93rd year I have no delusions about my mortality. So I want this article and my Living Will to be as close to 100 percent right as possible since my family will eventually have to use it.
Fortunately the Supreme Court of Canada has finally allowed doctor assisted death. If a patient is dying from cancer and in severe pain in his final days, or has had a severe stroke and is incapacitated, the court acknowledges the right to seek a Doctor Assisted Death (DAD) if desired.
But politicians have encumbered the law with cruel restrictions that boggle the mind, resulting in a double standard of justice. They’ve forbidden the Advanced Directive. This means that patients suffering from early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, or other forms of dementia, cannot state their wishes about eventual death while mentally able to make this choice. But how can they do so later when not mentally sound?
What a tragic decision at a time when an Advanced Directive is most needed. Today Alzheimer’s Disease is growing drastically as our population ages. Who knows the suffering that these people endure who become incontinent of urine and feces and stare at walls day after day.
Political “wisdom” has also stated that patients must be close to death to be eligible for DAD. The Supreme Court ruling did not have this condition. It sensibly said DAD should be determined by the degree of suffering.
The main opposition to the Advanced Directive came from the disabled who were concerned their lives might be ended prematurely and unwillingly. But all the disabled need do is sign a statement that under no circumstances do they want Doctor Assisted Death. Just signing “no “ would save endless trouble and suffering.
I agree the Living Will is not a legal document, providing 100 percent certainty that DAD will be available. But without it, there is close to 100 percent certainty you will have no control over your final days.
The more hard evidence you can submit to those who will decide for or against your DAD, the greater the chance it will happen.
Remember a Living Will is of no value if no one in the family is aware of it or where it is located. It’s also prudent to provide family members, your doctor and lawyer with copies.
Equally vital is a discussion with all family members who will be responsible for making a decision about DAD. Or if you are on life-support, whether it should be discontinued. It requires only one family member to say no to these decisions to deny your wishes. So much better to know who agrees or disagrees.
Because of my age I was recently asked by a friend how I felt about death. I’ve always joked I‘d prefer to be shot by a jealous lover at 95. But if I am dying in agony I hope a lethal injection by a compassionate physician will send me to eternity. I have witnessed too many patients suffer for days in agony to think otherwise.
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