Physician Assisted Suicide: A Peaceful Departure From Life

Physician assisted suicide is a course of action that has long been used in the medical field as a way of ending the prolonged suffering of terminally diseased adults in Canada. Physician assisted dying is an option for patients with a poor quality of life since many terminally ill patients deal with insufferable pain. It has also become an option for diseased people in Canada on the account of respect for a patient’s anatomy and choice of care. Above all, assisted dying provides shortened grief for family and loved ones. Many people in Canada question the legality of physician assisted suicide for mainly phylosophical and cultural reasons, however, one cannot deny the obvious benefits for the procedure in the terminally ill. Physician assisted suicide should be accessible to all patients in Canada that request it and prove themselves to be a sound of mind adult. The legalization of medically assisted death is still much too restrictive, in respect to foreseeability of natural death. In a life or death situation, the patient is the only one that can best understand their options and the most optimal way to proceed. 

First and foremost, euthansaia is a choice for terminally ill patients in Canada after a long certification process that confirms a poor quality of life. In regards to physician assisted suicide, quality of life is thought more as a life that would do more harm than good. Many argue that this notion is concerning because it brings to surface underlying mental health problems. However, depression and hopelessness are not synonyms when one is nearing the end of one’s life because of a situation that is beyond their control. This was the case of Sue Rodriguez, a Canadian right-to-die activist who fought for the right to die with dignity. The 42-year old suffered from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a neurological illness that causes involuntary muscle movements as well as other health conditions. People with ALS ultimately lose the ability to breathe without a respirator, eat without a gastrostomy or move without assistance and will ultimately be bed ridden. She wished to die in the hands of a professional when the time came, choosing to end her own life. She applied to the Supreme Court of British Columbia ordering that Section 241 of the Criminal Code which prohibits assisted suicide be considered invalid as it infringes her fundamental human rights under Section 7, 12 and 15 of the Charter. Rodrgiez in the end, comitted suicide with a morphine mixture, where she had lost almost all movement in her body and died alongside her husband. Collectively, Sue Rordriguez paved the way for physician assisted dying and gave courage to many people in Canada to truly reflect on their quality of life.  Like Sue Rodriguez, Rob Rollins was also a terminally ill Canadian. Rob Rollins had a malignant carcinoma in his throat and bowel regions. Rollins went through many rounds of chemotherapy in hopes of being free of the illness, however, soon realized that the cancer continued to grow. As a result of this, he needed a complete throat dissection to eliminate the possibility of the tumors growing or returning, and was left with a feeding tube to the abdomen as a result. Rollins was then considered terminally ill and was given the prognosis of 6 months to live. Rob Rollins had a physician assisted suiced alongside his husband, best friend and brother in his bedroom, the doctor had regulated a lethal medication into Rob’s IV tube which allowed him to pass peacefully. He is among the 1300 people in Canada who have chosen the option of medically assisted death since Bill-C 14 passed on June 17 which allowed for assisted dying to become law. Rob Rollins’s story displays the realization that terminally ill patients have when nearing the end, it allows them to make sound decisions regarding their quality of life that they feel will benefit them as well as their loved ones. To sum up, Rodriguez should have been given the opportunity to end her life with dignity as the illness was purging her of a positive quality of life. The screening process to be eligible for physcian assisted suicide is extensive, mental health problems is the first factor that is checked. Rodriguez took her own life because she was in tremendous pain and believed death was the only answer to end it, she preferred it to be in a professional’s hands and desired for her death to be handled with care. Physicians have taken an oath to never deny care to a patient and in the cases of Rollins and Rodriguez, that care was physcian assisted suicide because of the poor quality of life both people were going through. There comes a time when having an illness where death is not scary anymore, in fact, it begins feeling like the only thing that will provide peace. Quality of life is one of the main driving factors for a patient to decide to choose physician assisted suicde, as a result of this, only the patient can determine if the life they lived alongside the illness is worth continuing. To conclude, a patient’s quality of life is a major deciding factor on whether or not they decide to go ahead with physician assisted dying. Thus, no other party can decide for the patient if they would want to live a life that is not valuable to them. Once again proving that the patient can best comprehend their options in a life or death situation.

Death in and of itself is a scary endeavor, particularly when it comes unexpectedly. Physician assisted suicide takes away the shock factor and as a result, allows for less traumatic grief as a precursercer to the death of a loved one. Physician assisted dying has been proven to allow for fewer feelings of grief as an aftermath, in comparison to someone who has died naturally. It greatly reduces the unnecessary pain and suffering of loved ones during and after the procedure. This notion is recognizable in the case of Marissa Nini who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. Nini had tried extensive chemotherapy for several years and as a repercussion, was suffering through a sizable amount of pain. Her doctors could not find any substitutes to relieve it without causing her additional symptoms, Ninithen decided to pursue assisted suicide and was met with comfort and endless love from her family and loved ones. During Marissa’s care, she would rarely have visitors over because of the considerable amount of pain she was enduring. However, she was delighted to have her family and friends there to experience and celebrate her final moments with her. Months after Marissa’s death, her family is healing well and believe she made the right decision for everyone involved . Much like Marissa Nini, Noreen Campbell experienced her death alongside her loved ones. Noreen Campbell suffered from aggressive malignant oral cancer that traveled to her lungs giving her COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). In many cases regarding physician assisted suicide, surviving spouses experience greif that they can handle in a healthy way. They are mere witnesses to the suffering endured by the patient and in the case of Clifford Campbell, Noreen’s spouse, he watched Noreen in her final moments feeling completely blissful. Clifford had witnessed Noreen cough up blood for hours, however, always made time for her family. On the day of the procedure, Clifford had conflicted feelings of his wife’s departure but understood that this is what she wanted because he had months to prepare for her death. Noreen died in her farm on her favorite chair alongside all her family and friends. Her family was prepared and ready for her departure from life, this allowed them to grieve knowing that she was happy in her final moments. In essence, loved ones of patients who decided to pass with a physician assisted death experience less post-traumatic grief in comparison to patients who have died naturally. This could be because loved ones are better able to cope with the trauma because they had an uncommon opportunity to say their goodbyes when the patient is fully capable of responding. In the case of Marissa Nini, her daughter was by her side the entirety of the dying process,hence,her daughter could truly grasp how much her mother needed for the pain to be over because in her final moments, it had subsided and she was finally at peace. This allowed for a better healing process after the fact, Nini’s daughter understood where her mother was coming from and could continue living life without the grief of her death weighing her down. In addition to that,Friends and family are also much more prepared for the death because of the long periods of time they have had knowing the day would come to accept the decision. In regards to Noreen Campbell, her entire family had the chance to say their goodbyes together, this allowed them to be prepared for her passing as well as granting them the opportunity to be there when she died, instead of it being a surprise. Therefore, the main benefit is the interaction between the patient and their loved ones once the patient has chosen to move forward with physician assisted suicide. 

The legalization of physician assisted dying has sparked intense conversation in Canada. The most ferocious opposers to the procedure are of the religious sort, more specifically the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. They were very much against the passing of the law as well as bill C-14, arguing that the approval of the law is merely drawing the curtains over their inability to truly care for the suffering. The Council of Canadians with Disabilities also feel that the legalization of the law sends the wrong message to Canadians, that the lives of the terminally ill are lives not worth living. Alternatively, they advocate for better palliative care and more investments for those who need support to improve their quality of life. In contrast, many Canadians strongly reject the conception that the legalization of the law belittles the lives of the ill in any way. Physicians are very careful when handling the vulnerability of patients, they present the option of medically assisted death without any pressurization. Loved ones experience a sense of relief, even contentment, knowing that the patient passed peacefully and had control over how they died, the way they desired. There are always controversies where the medical field is concerned, people feel strongly about varying opinions. The one thing that all parties can agree on is the fact that each person in Canada has the fundamental human right to select or forgo any treatments that they wish. 

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Blog Image Credit : Sandy Millar

Written by: Maaya Chander


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