Imagine if you were losing your strength, becoming paralyzed, had trouble swallowing, needed to be carried from bathroom to bed, were unable to carry out normal bodily functions and were unable to control one’s own life.
These conditions describe my son. It is not what I focus on, but it is the reality of his life.
These conditions are also what a prominent Canadian doctor recently used as justification for assisted suicide. Dr. Donald Low, the public face of Toronto’s SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) crisis in 2003, died September 18 of a brain stem tumour. Eight days before he died, he recorded a YouTube video trying to convince Canadian doctors and politicians to change our laws to permit assisted suicide.
“I wish they could live in my body for 24 hours, I think they would change [their] opinion,” he says in his video.
Even as sick as he is, Dr. Low speaks with the authority of someone used to being in charge, having his opinions taken seriously and his suggestions followed.
As a logical argument, I can understand how suffering from these conditions is a great loss to a highly accomplished and capable man.
But as the mother of someone who lives this life, I can’t get there emotionally. I highly doubt, if given the chance, Deane would choose to be disabled. I know there are times it frustrates him that he can’t participate in all the activities his sister and cousins do. But l believe he also feels he leads a pretty complete life – school, skiing, rock concerts, tubing, basketball games, biking all while being a happy, funny, loving member of our family.
Dr. Low made it clear that his position had nothing to do with pain. Palliative care would ease his symptoms. He said it was a matter of dignity. I would suggest pride.
When Deane was an infant, we were offered the opportunity to put a do not resuscitate order on him. The doctor who suggested said a severely disabled child was not what we had bargained for.
I know that there is a difference between not resuscitating someone and providing a cocktail of drugs to help end a life. But it is a line that can become blurred. For some, being dependent on other people to help you with your most personal bodily functions is an unthinkable indignity. For others, it is simply a reality of an otherwise valuable – and dignified – life.
If the laws are going to change, let’s make sure we can walk this fine line because those who could suffer the most are already the most vulnerable.