Making choices

Having a say in our dying

Barb Brouwer

Sally Scales was well-known in the community for her newspaper column, Sidewalk Superintendent. The feisty former nurse and owner of the Lakeshore News had strong opinions and wasn’t afraid to voice them.

Forthright to the end, Sally chose the timing of her own demise rather than continue with the ill effects of heart disease that made every breath an effort and had her wondering if it would be her last.

She fit the criteria for the Medical Assistance in Dying (MAid) program that has been legal since 2016, was assessed by two doctors and filled out the necessary paperwork. Her son, Peter, was glad that his mom was finally able to find an end to her suffering.

Some will be critical of Sally’s choice, but I fully endorse it and am glad we can now access a compassionate process that ensures only those with a terminal illness are accepted into the MAid program.

In 2008, my husband died following a difficult year with pancreatic cancer. A few days before he died, he told me he had been working with his angels and was ready to go. I had nursed him at home for three months of feeding tubes, medications, incontinence and a morphine pump. When he said he wanted to die, I knew he meant it.

Many years earlier, his father, who was living in the small town of Megen in Holland, also suffered from pancreatic cancer, and when it became intolerable, was assisted in dying by a physician who went to his home.

But my husband’s doctor told me we were not in Holland and when I said, “So, we’re on our own,” he agreed. I don’t blame him, I wouldn’t be asking a doctor to break the law.

It is easy to be judgmental about medically assisted dying; easier to understand if one has been in a situation where death seems like a favourable alternative.

While I am thrilled to be alive and able to lead an active, fulfilling life, my attitude was very different following a triple bypass last August. The first few weeks post-surgery were worse than the heart attack that preceded it and I often wondered if I was going to recover. The thought of my life ending at that time was neither upsetting nor frightening.

Thanks to the excellent medical care I received and with a great deal of help and encouragement from family and friends, it didn’t take long for me to want to recover.

Despite its inevitability, death is a subject many people fear to even speak about. But, as it’s a question of when, not if, in my mind it’s best to approach the subject when we are able to make our wishes known.

I recently spoke with a longtime ER physician who detailed the anguish he had repeatedly seen when family members argued about whether to let a family member go or resuscitate them. He told me guilt lay heavily on the shoulders of many as they wondered if their decisions had been right.

I am hoping to die without the need of assistance but I’m certainly not wishing for a speedy departure. If the time comes that I am terminally ill and my suffering is great, I am comforted to know I will have a choice.