As part of our coverage on end-of-life issues, The Globe asked readers to tell us how you felt about assisted suicide. The responses, both for and against, were pointed and poignant, so reporter Sandra Martin approached several respondents to expand on their views. Here’s what they had to say, a taste of the debate to come after Quebec introduced its landmark legislation on the issue.
The right to choose to end your life
John G. Yorke, 62, New Glasgow, N.S.
I’m an industrial engineer, who is married with two grown children. When I lived in Vancouver, I had a season’s pass to Whistler and I went downhill skiing 25 times a year. I loved running around the seawall in Stanley Park. I was always a physically active and fit person. I loved working on cars and doing renovations around the house. After 20 years in Vancouver and going through a couple of job upheavals, I told my wife, ‘If you want to go back to the Maritimes I will.’ We moved back in 1995 and I was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis in 1998. When the mill [in Campbellton, N.B.] shut down, my family moved to New Glasgow and I joined them when I had to go on long-term disability in 2001. My left hand is useless and I had to retrain myself to use my right hand. I can barely sign my name now, and when I go on the computer I type very slowly with one finger on one hand. I have been in a wheelchair since 2003.
Before I was diagnosed, I watched the Sue Rodriguez case back in 1993 and I told myself if this ever happened to me I would want the right to end it when I thought it was time. There are still things I enjoy, like meals with family and friends and watching football on TV, so as long as I can live at home with family support, life isn’t too bad.
But I made my mind up a long time ago that I wasn’t going into institutional care. I don’t want to live that way. I’m very close to my family and they support my decision. I am aware that there are different drugs that would do the job, but I have reached a point that I am no longer physically capable of mixing up the drugs myself. I can barely hold a glass. That’s why I support a change in the legislation, because if somebody helps me now, they could be legally charged [for aiding a suicide]. I would like it made possible for me to find a doctor who would be willing to assist me like they do at Dignitas in Switzerland. I can’t go there because of the cost.
Christopher White, 56, Toronto
I have been a United Church minister for 26 years, first in Edmonton, then in Whitby, Ont., where we built a new church. For the last 2 1/2 years I’ve been back in Toronto in the neighourhood I grew up in. I’m married with two daughters.
One of the challenges of right to die and the issues that come from religious communities is that death is in God’s hands, and not something we, as human beings, should interfere with. Part of the concern from religious communities is the potential for abuse. Unfortunately, we have historical examples of oppressive states deciding who gets to live and who gets to die.
We are in a place now where medicine has the capacity to extend existence, but not to extend life. I think we need to be very clear about the difference between extending existence and a life where we get to participate in the community and live as we wish, even if there are disability and health issues. When medical science simply prolongs existence, then I think we are in a very different place. We know that if people who are terminally ill are given a certain level of morphine, it will draw their lives to an end, but we don’t say [to medical authorities] you shouldn’t do that because it interferes with nature or with God. As a society we need to say to people that if it is a choice, not between life and death, but between existence and death, what are your wishes? We already have that capacity with Do Not Resuscitate orders. But, as a minister I have seen families fighting tooth and nail not to have life support turned off for somebody who needs to be let go. Death is a natural part of life. We need to accept that. If you are in a nursing home and you have a DNR on file, it doesn’t necessarily apply if you are transferred to hospital. You have to have a separate DNR at the hospital. People don’t realize this.