From Where I Sit – Open Minds, Open Hearts

While on our recent cruise I was pleased that each morning the ship provided three distinct four-page leaflets bringing news from Canada, the United States, and Great Britain.

In fact That’s how I first learned that John Baird was retiring from federal politics and that a man from Lamont, Alberta had won fifty million dollars in the lottery. Unfortunately I don’t know either well enough to benefit from their news!

Also earning a front-page story was the remarkable news that the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) had unanimously ruled that Canadians have the right to end their lives with the help of a doctor if they have a “grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring and intolerable suffering.”

This story is remarkable for several reasons. Rarely do the nine justices ever agree (without an additional ruling explaining dissenting interpretation) on any issue so ethically or socially divisive. This would also add Canada to a list of only ten other jurisdictions in the world to address the issue of physician-assisted suicide. It also forces government to deal with the issue after decades of rhetoric and sidestepping. The government has been given just one year to create legislation to protect the rights of the vulnerable and the doctors who have conscious objections as well as to outline the process by which the service would be accessed. A sound mind and clear, informed consent by an adult form the starting point.

To put a face to this issue one need only think of Sue Rodriguez who was diagnosed with ALS in 1991 and lost this battle with the SCC in a 5-4 decision in 1993. In 1994 she ended her life with the help of an anonymous physician.

In 2010, another BC woman, Kay Carter, 89 was forced to travel secretly to Switzerland to get the doctor-assisted suicide she wanted to prevent her from becoming in her words “an ironing board on a bed” and “dying inch by inch.”

Most of us don’t have to think very long or hard about people who have cruelly suffered. We just need to imagine ourselves enduring pain without end while knowing all hope of recovery is gone. Who among us doesn’t hold personal dignity and the right to decide our own destiny as sacrosanct?

Comparisons are being made to the decades-long fight for racial and gender equality, rights for gays and the right to abortion. Despite the pain of these struggles and the emergence of both victims and heroes in the process, would any reasonable person actually suggest we turn back the clock? Whose rights would we throw under the bus? Women, blacks, LTGBs? I think as a country, and a people, we are ready to boldly look this issue in the eye and come to a resolution that will free all of us (patients and doctors) as well as protect those most vulnerable.

It will require political will, open minds, and, equally, open hearts; from where I sit.

Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites..