Permission to live

The freedom of choice in medically assisted death

What if having permission to die gives those who are suffering with terminal illnesses more capacity to live?

What if knowing that your end can come when you choose means you don’t have to live with worry and dread?

And what if being freed from the dread of a difficult death or a prolonged period of intolerable suffering makes each present moment even the teensiest bit lighter?

Since Medical Assistance In Dying (MAiD) became an option those who are deathly ill can request, only half of those who are approved to dictate the terms of their passing choose to do so.

Dr. Doug Smith, Interior Health’s executive medical director for end of life care and MAiD, said those who decide not to proceed with prearranged deaths opt out for any number of reasons.

Some might pass away in the meantime, while others might lose the capacity to consent before their final appointment arrives.

But I wonder if others, being assured a gentle death awaits them at the time of their choosing, might then feel freer to live.

Last week I attended an appointment Rolf Heer had with his doctor to request an assisted death. Mr. Heer cried in the examination room as he begged the doctor to let him go. His doctor asked him to do more testing, offered medication for his pain and said he wanted Mr. Heer to want to live.

Witnessing these men debate whether one should allow the other to die was beyond heart wrenching. The doctor, who had a roll of smiley-face stickers, wanted the happiest and kindest outcome for his patient. Mr. Heer, who was wearing a fraying pink robe, just wanted permission to stop hurting.

At one point the doctor looked at me as if to implore me to ask Mr. Heer to soldier on. I didn’t. That’s because I want both of these men to get their wishes. I want the doctor to give Mr. Heer hope that the time he has left can be not only manageable but also rich and beautiful. I want Mr. Heer to have a way out of his pain.

And I wonder if granting Mr. Heer the opportunity to chose to his own ending could ease his suffering such that it might make the rest of his days worth living.

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