Canadians wrestle with agonizing questions about the end of life

Categories: Care.

The Stratford woman sat helplessly as her beloved mother waged a futile battle against breast cancer that eventually spread to her bones, causing excruciating pain.

What made the situation unbearable for the family, however, was that her mother had a severe reaction to narcotics, so that doctors were not able to relieve her pain.

“They tried all kinds of drugs,” said Westley. “She would just throw them up. So not only was she in horrible pain, but she was throwing up all the time.”

She had been a proud, self-sufficient, capable woman, whose discomfort while playing tennis led to the discovery that her cancer had returned. But the last several months of her life were spent in unremitting pain; for the last two, she was bedridden.

“She couldn’t do much beyond moan,” Westley says. She had had excellent care, had been clear to her family about her wishes, and was able to die at home, but it was still a horrible death, Westley says.

“There was clearly no possible hope of reprieve, yet she was still forced to linger, linger linger.”

She finally decided to stop eating and drinking, but hung on for 10 days, Westley says.

“The whole thing just felt unbelievably inhuman.”

The horror of that experience convinced Westley that there had to be a better way to die.

She joined Dying With Dignity, a national organization committed to helping people achieve the death they want. Westley believes Canada needs a law that allows assisted suicide, so that no one in Canada has to face the agony her mother did.

Linda Jarrett of Kitchener doesn’t see herself as a political activist pushing to change the laws on assisted suicide. Jarrett, a retired teacher who was diagnosed 15 years ago with progressive multiple sclerosis, has gradually lost mobility and motor control: she now uses a scooter and has the help of a service dog.

She simply sees herself as a determined person who wants to have control over her own life — and her own death.

“This is my life, and I want my death if possible to be controlled by me. What I’m trying to pursue is living my life the way I would like it to be lived,” said Jarrett, who is featured in the documentary The Trouble With Dying, which airs Monday on Vision TV at 10 p.m.

The film is produced by Torontonian David Holgate, who decided to make the film after his own father asked for help to die.

In the film, Jarrett says she might like the option to end her life before she has become completely dependent on others.

To view the full article, please visit the Waterloo Region Record.

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