A place where I can chronicle my family's journey through cancer. A place where WE can discuss our concerns. A place where WE can inspire each other. A place for hope.

Friday, April 23, 2010

To Die or Not to Die

Recently, there has been an issue that I have debated writing about just because of how controversial it is. One day I’ll write a couple paragraphs on it, the next I’ll scrap everything. It’s a subject that I feel leaves many of us divided in our opinions towards the matter. Lately, however, in light of some current events, I’ve decided to go ahead with it. Not only because I use this blog as a place to voice my thoughts and opinions, but also because I do believe this issue is a relevant one that needs to be addressed. Besides, controversy can be good. It’s an opportunity for us all to think and speak. In addition, this subject has been at the back of my mind for a couple weeks like a secret brain ninja judo-chopping my meninges, fighting to be released! Not so much fun, as you can imagine…

The last issue of Maclean’s magazine covered an interesting topic that led to its purchase for further reading. Basically, it discussed the debate between those against and those for assisted suicide. See what I mean? The article personified the issue through its profile of a lovely little lady by the name of Bernice Packford from Victoria, BC. It read, “She’s happy. She’s healthy. She wants to die. Should we help her?” Interesting…

First, some important information. Although they are often associated with each other, it’s probably important, in matters like these, to distinguish the difference between assisted suicide and euthanasia (because there is a big difference). According to the article, “assisted suicide involves the passive participation of a medical professional in an individual’s decision to take their own life. This may take the form of dispensing a lethal pill or providing advice. In either case, it’s the patient who ultimately takes the decisive action. Euthanasia, in contrast, involves a positive action on the part of a doctor to end a life at that person’s request – by administering the fatal dose, for example.” So basically, the difference between the two is based on who takes the primary action in the ending of a life. It’s a little ironic though. If euthanasia were to be put into effect, those who were committed to saving lives would also now be committed to ending lives. God, is that you?! The magazine expresses these sentiments as well. “Of the two options, euthanasia is easily the most disturbing. Having taken an oath to ‘do no harm,’ it is intrinsically wrong for a medical professional to play an active role in the death of a patient”.

Now, this is where Bernice comes into play. Her argument, as you may have guessed, is “pro” in the death with dignity debate. She states, “I am in good health. I’m not suffering from an illness that will be eventually fatal”… “I’m tired and I do suffer from congestive heart failure [which robs her of energy and requires her to use a walker]. I can have a stroke. I’ve had a stroke, and I recovered from that. I’m facing imminent sickness or a stroke, which will leave me conscious and helpless. And that thought fills me with horror.” Essentially, what Bernice is fighting for is the right to die on her own terms, to die with dignity. This would allow her to have her family with her on the “big” day and ultimately, die in peace. Now, this is the part where I am often left sitting on the fence. No one can blame this woman for wanting to go out with dignity. It’s not so much Bernice that I am opposed to, in fact she seems like a very lovely woman and a strong contributor to society. Instead, it is the act and the justification of suicide that this movement advocates that I am against. Regardless of what I think, however, it’s important to acknowledge that these are very muddy waters we tread. If legislation in support of assisted suicide were to pass, where would the line be drawn? I can understand the justification from those in considerable amounts of pain or vegetative states, but for someone in relatively good health to so readily ask for death? As others have mentioned, what about those who are depressed and in other altered states of mind? If such legislation were to pass, it would send a message out to people, out to our kids, that suicide would be a justifiable action to pursue. I’m sure many of you have seen headlines boldly displaying the prevalence of bullying-related suicides? What about those kids? I can only IMAGINE how many ways such a legislation could go wrong, or God forbid, abused. Despite these reasons, on a more personal note, I feel like this whole debate screams “ungrateful”. Ultimately… I feel like this issue is a huge slap in the face. It is a cold, hard, and cruel smack to everyone out there fighting to save their lives and the lives of their loved ones. It is offensive to me because I know people out there in the world and people in my life that are fighting WITH EVERY OUNCE OF THEIR BEING to stay alive, hoping to live just another day. And in the meantime, others who are perfectly healthy and, really, have nothing to complain about, are out there trying to fight for their right to end the very thing we are working so hard to save. Talk about a kick when you’re down. It’s like…someone working years and years to build something beautiful only to have it destroyed by someone who won’t have a second thought about it. Bad example, I know.

I’ve talked to others to get their opinions on the issue, and was actually quite surprised to hear from many that they believed suicide was a justifiable “way out” – excluding those in considerable amounts of pain and vegetative states. I’m sorry but I am STILL having a hard time grasping that concept. Yes, I understand that many people feel like there is no way out, but I truly do not believe that suicide is ever the option! Would you consider it such a justifiable action if it were your family member or friend in the position? No, you wouldn’t ever want them to give up.

Now, I want to be clear on something before anyone gets too worked up. When people decide to go into hospice, to me, that is not giving up. In fact, it is the complete opposite. I think all cancer patients are true fighters. Ever since we were diagnosed, I have never met more courageous, spirited, and supportive people than those affected by this disease. When a person makes the decision to go into hospice, I think that, in and of itself, is a tremendous show of strength and bravery. It is not giving up, it is a shift in focus. These brave men and women have instead decided to fight for quality of life. It must be an extremely hard decision to make and one that I don’t think I would ever have enough courage to muster up. Kudos to them.

On the magazine’s site, another person brought up a good point:

However, a large number of people that do commit suicide would probably regret having done so. How do we know that? Because there are a large number or people who have been prevented from committing suicide, most of whom regret their suicide attempt. Public policy must assume that people who want to kill themselves (I suppose we can make an exception for the terminally ill) are irrational, and don’t really want to do so. Why? Because it is usually true, and, frankly, if somebody really and truly wants to die, they can easily succeed. What Bernice Packford wants is for somebody else to take responsibility for her life. She wants to institutionalize and bureaucratize suicide. One might reason that she would feel guilty if she killed herself on her own. She damn well should, because suicide is a profoundly painful experience for everybody who cares for her. Far more so than death, I should add, which has no assocations of guilt. Suicide is illegal, at least for healthy individuals. But it is also unenforceable if somebody really wants to go through with it. That is the way it should be. Those that truly want to die, can easily succeed. At the same time our public policy response must be to try with every fibre of our being to keep people alive.

When it really comes down to it… I just feel like we are taking too many things for granted. Life is precious, life is valuable. It pisses me off that, as my mom (and millions like her) fights so very hard for her life (to the point of sheer exhaustion), there are those out there that would try to pass a law to end lives. It’s a deeply complicated and emotional issue. I know some of you, perhaps many of you, will get upset over this and I can respect that. This is just me being completely honest and sincere to myself and those reading this blog. I feel like I’m ranting now, so I’ll let it soak.

Provided is a link of the article featured in Maclean’s: Bernice


Ugh! I was reading the Globe and Mail today and found an article about a Minnesota man by the name of William Melchert-Dinkel, 47, who was charged for "aiding" in the suicides of two people via online chat rooms - apparently for the "thrill of the chase". What is wrong with people?! According to Melchert-Dinkel, he had entered into 10 or 11 suicide pacts in the past. Most recently, he had convinced an Ottawa university student, Nadia Kajouji (who, might I add, was battling DEPRESSION), to jump into the frozen Rideau River in March of 2008.

Now, when I mentioned previously about how legislation in support of assisted suicide could go wrong or be abused, this is exactly that kind of situation. How does one truly differentiate between assisted suicide and perhaps a more devious intent or ensure that it does not conflict/contradict with other existing laws? In regards to this case, conviction is unclear because of "jurisdiction, its online nature, and the fact that the Minnesota law against aiding in a suicide (which applies to anyone who 'advises, encourages, or assists another in taking the other's own life') is also viewed as untested, and vulnerable to a challenge under U.S. First Amendment free-speech laws."


You can read the full article here


  1. I do not agree with assisted suicide, but I do like Terry Pratchett (the author) agree with assisted death. His lecture given earlier this year in the UK can be found here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/feb/02/terry-pratchett-assisted-suicide-tribunal

    As you say it is a very difficult subject, but one we need to address.

  2. A discussion of assisted suicide brings into the open a possible choice that is now talked about in small specialized groups, limited by narrow views, explained in hushed tones to those who look for a way to end their suffering.

    There is a real danger of reaching a point where the suffering person has expended so much energy, physically and mentally, that rigorous evaluation of this possible choice is overwhelmed by fatigue. And that a process of such high order has been set in motion, one that would require enormous will to disrupt, a will that may no longer exist and the process thus carries the person to an unwanted end.

    Think of a beautiful courtship that makes the entire body of friends and family on both sides fill with joyous anticipation of the life the young couple will enjoy following the upcoming wedding. All the preparation has been made, invitations are out,gifts already coming in, the country club reception is locked in and family members have travelled great distances to celebrate with the perfect young couple.

    But days before, the bride to be discovers a character flaw in the young man she is to commit her life to, something she witnesses as he interacts with his closest friends from college and she knows instantly that this is a deal breaker, of such import to her value system that she cannot go through with the wedding. It happens, and some have the intestinal fortitude to leap from the rolling train accepting the painful but temporary injury while others cave and allow themselves to be carried along to a place of dreadful expectation.

    As an MM patient I have thought much about this road and the possibility of assisted suicide to avoid the loss of dignity and to avoid becoming a burden to those I care about. My blog , " Be still and know that I am God" on this page, is the synthesis of my conclusion on the matter. There is a PBS Frontline program called, "the Suicide Tourist". Please view this if you are contemplating ending your life. View it with an open mind,without preconception or color from one who has seen it, but please take the time and witness before deciding to be the subject of such a process. Once moving, it is a powerful force that seeks approval, no, actual buy in from those around you. And once you've convinced people to accede to your "dying" wishes, would you have the strength to stop at the door and change your mind and deal with the anticlimactic condition of your continued life? Think about it long before any decisions are made.

  3. I simply respect the individual's choice of when they should die, IF their illness is terminal.

  4. I received a call one afternoon that my mother had attempted suicide (again) but at 93, this time she would not be brought back. However, it became clear to me that there had to have been someone else involved and it turned out to be my step-sister, who had helped her - that woman announced to me "She took 55 sleeping pills!" Smelling the rat, I called the police and asked for an investigation. Although my mother was dead and her other daughter was planning the funeral, the detective informed me that although he was certain from his investigation that my theories were correct (that her daughter had either assisted in her death or worse) that the State would not get involved because a 93-year old woman's death was different than a 33-year old woman's death... maybe to the State, but not to me. I had lost someone who knew me first and always.
    This woman had a history of depression, and when I saw her (i lived too far away to be a regular visitor, but we talked frequently on the phone.) I knew she was in that low place. I tried to make changes in her living situation and to speak with her doctor, but guess who had power of attorney? Guess who inherited everything? Guess who was tired of "dealing with her mother's complaints?"
    The only way I can support "assisted death" is when the patient's primary physician, who has knowledge of the HISTORY of the individual and the projected outcome of the patient's condition is directly involved. NOT a family member who stands to gain something! NOT a friend who might have to regret his or her participation later when the relatives find out!
    Yes, it was a long life, lived as many are, in a community of friends and family and church. But it was cut short by her depression and the desire of one individual to "put her out of her misery." That is unforgivable - my mother was not an animal. She was a sad old lady who was depressed and having trouble living alone which were all correctable 'problems,' if the caregiver had been willing to let loose the purse strings to encourage her, with doctor's orders, to live in assisted living until her time really was up.
    This is why I am against suicide of any kind. The grief on top of the first grief is hard to relinquish. If you are contemplating such an act, think about those who are going to grieve for you.

  5. I agree, Lorna that the "assisted death" concept makes sense. As long as the choice is clear and warranted as confirmed by the primary care physician to avoid the callous disregard for a "life", no matter how old, as Sandy has experienced.

    Blessings to you and your Mom, Sandy.

  6. Oh Sandy. I'm so sorry to hear about your mom :(
    I hope you are doing ok.