Today's date: Friday June 23, 2017 Vol 50 Issue 25
   
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Group plans challenge to laws for right to die

by David Meyer

GUELPH

Over 70 people were at the Harcourt Church here recently to learn about dying with some dignity.

They heard that the group with the name Dying With Dignity is advocating several changes to laws so that people, for example, do not have to live for years with feeding tubes in them.

Retired clergyman Don Johns said mainstream churches are very conservative when it comes to dying, but he takes a liberal view that people should be able to make their own decisions. He was trained by Death With Dignity.

“Our team is a safe place to talk about situations they couldn’t even talk about with their spouse,” John said.

He said being able to die with dignity is becoming a worldwide movement, and its aim is to avoid such things as people being kept alive when they may have wanted to die.

“No one wants to kill Mom,” he said, but noted that Mom might not want to remain alive in a vegetative state, either.

He said Dying with Dignity also advocates for better hospice and palliative care for people.

Executive Director for Dying with Dignity Wanda Morris explained the legal history of the cause, which first began in 1937 in Switzerland, which became the first jurisdiction to legalize euthanasia. She noted that in 1972 in Canada, law changed so it was no longer illegal to commit suicide. However, anyone aiding or abetting a suicide could still be charged.

In 1994 in Oregon, a group got on the ballot a question of having the right to assist people in their dying. It passed by the required  two-thirds majority, but the legislature failed to act, arguing no-one understood the ballot question. In 1997, the group brought the question back, and again it received the needed majority, providing for medically assisted dying. It was only for the terminally ill, such as people diagnosed with only six months to live.

In the Netherlands, the law is benign neglect. The law has not changed, but people are not charged.

“Doctors just euthanized,” Morris said, adding that today there are “clear protocols.”

She cited a number of legal cases that have helped the cause.

In one case, a woman was in an accident that killed her husband. She received extensive injuries and carried a card stating she refused blood transfusions. Doctors provides them anyway, despite her daughter saying she would not want them. They saved her life, and she successfully sued the hospital.

Morris said, “We have a right to refuse treatment - even if it would save our own life.”

She added people have the right to stop treatment at any time.

“If they choose a course to hasten and end their life, then we are at their bedside. They may choose to do that.”

She said patients who want to die can have medicine withheld and can have pain pumps to enable them to die in peace. She said removing such things as fluids that keep the body hydrated is an option, and glycerine swabs can keep the patient from being thirsty. “It’s a quite peaceful way to go.”

Morris said, “It doesn’t mean a doctor stops caring. We have a right to pain control, comfort, and care.”

She called taking one’s own life “hastening - not suicide. It’s choosing to end suffering on our own terms. We provide information through our client support plan to members.”

She said there are numerous things people can do to ensure they are not kept alive against their wishes. One is to appoint a substitute decision maker, someone who agrees with the patient’s viewpoint. “Find someone who supports your decisions. Have an advocate. Charge them, as they love you, to advocate.”

She said people believe it is time to challenge the courts again to allow for assisted suicide. She said that challenge will probably come from British Columbia, where prosecuting attorneys already work under guidelines of charging people only if there is clear evidence against them. “It is legal to be present at a legal act [suicide] but you can’t aid that act.”

Morris noted that people will take responsibility for putting down their pets when life becomes intolerable.

“What kind of society are we where we can be so compassionate with our pets?” she wondered, while denying the same release to loved ones.

Morris said members of Dying With Dignity - soon to be reinstated as a charity - will receive an advance care kit and power of attorney, as well as an advanced care plan that is the start of the process, by documenting the decision to die when one chooses, rather than lingering or being kept alive by artificial means.

To learn more, visit www.dyingwithdignity.ca.

 

Vol 44 Issue 12

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