Expanding End-of-Life rationales

whiteflowerYesterday, as I often do first thing in the morning, I was listening to The Current on CBC and the show just happened to be about euthanasia, specifically about the laws in Belgium as they related to medically-assisted death. Now, I admit, listening to that topic is probably not the best way to start a dark, grey, rainy January morning but what can I say? I just turn on the radio and life (and death) streams out.

I was horrified to hear the tragic story of this 64-year-old woman who opted for euthanasia in April 2012 after suffering from chronic depression for years. Her son found out about her decision, the day after her medically-assisted death.    And in Belgium, where she resided, it’s legal for someone to opt for medically-assisted death in response to a chronic physical or psychological illness.

Now, in Belgium, they have just extended medically-assisted death for children who are in unbearable pain from a terminal illness and with the consent of their parents and doctors.

As The Current highlighted, Quebec is in the process of debating Bill 52 which would legalize medically-assisted dying.

Oregon is the state you want to live in, if you are determined to control your end of life in the U.S.A.

I think anyone who has experienced depression and recovered from it might agree about how bad an idea it is that chronic depression be included as a legal reason to end your life. Being in the bowels of a depression with seemingly no end in sight is an incredibly painful experience. The mind is altered during a serious depression. It’s not a time when decision-making based on an assessment clouded by depression is to be trusted. The very nature of depression creates a lessening, if not outright loss, of hope which can mean less than objective insights into the possibilities for recovery or a belief that life will and can be different.  2013photos_flower

I have known two friends who committed suicide and I have watched my mother be taken off dialysis and wait for her body to shut down naturally, lying in the corner of a horrible four-bed hospital room for more than three weeks.  The three weeks it took for her body’s systems to stop seemed anything but compassionate to me.  After two years on dialysis, and at 84 years of age, she’d had enough and opted out. She rejected the treatment that could prolong her life; a life she deemed no longer worth living because of the treatment.

I often wondered to myself how a doctor’s compliance with a patient’s wishes to stop dialysis is more acceptable than a medically-assisted death that’s more active. My mother’s decision was an active one that was questioned more than once to be certain she understood the consequences of her choice in the same way, I assume, a person would be questioned in an active medically-assisted death.

In Belgium, the legislation apparently refers to active and passive euthanasia.   It seems to me that doctors and nurses are continually faced with choices and decisions that require them and their patients to participate in passive euthanasia.

It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I listened to a 90-year-old friend speak about why it’s important that death, regardless of circumstances, be allowed to descend upon its own time that I began to waiver in my own belief in end-of-life choice.

Should there be a difference between chronic physical and psychological conditions when it comes to having the right to choose to end your life? If so, what are the differences?


  1. Hi Gayle:
    In answer to your query (last paragraph) but without dwelling at length on this subject, it would appear that the operative word is “choice”. An individual should, in my opinion, have “the last word”. It should, perhaps, not be in the hands of a third party for whom the pain – physical or psychological – cannot really be evaluated. Yes, there is often relief from psychological pain, and often not; in the case of physical pain, ongoing and too burdensome to be tolerated further, it must be, in my relatively uninformed opinion, that the choice does lie with the sufferer. If it were my pain I do know I would want to be the one in control; I would consider it my right; my life, my right, to have the last word.
    I look forward to reading other opinions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *