Canada Revisits Old Debate on Assisted Suicide
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – Confined to a wheelchair, in constant pain and unable to bathe without help, a 63-year-old grandmother has forced the issue of assisted suicide into Canadian courts for the third time in two decades.
Gloria Taylor has Lou Gehrig’s disease, a rapidly progressive, invariably fatal neurological affliction.
“It is my life and my body and it should be my choice as to when and how I die,” she said before going to the British Columbia Supreme Court last Thursday to challenge Canada’s ban on assisted suicide, a crime carrying a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.
Taylor and her family won’t testify, but she sat in the courthouse in her wheelchair. She has told reporters she can’t even wash herself unaided or perform basic household chores. She called it “an assault not only on my privacy, but on my dignity and self-esteem.”
She frequently uses a respirator. “I fear that I will eventually suffocate and die struggling for air like a fish out of water,” she said.
Dearest Gloria Taylor, my heart goes out to you and your family; I’m not just saying that, I have the same damned disease (some things in this world are to be cursed). Yet I am alarmed to think that one day I might be required to meet with a state funded End of Life Counselor to go over my termination options for an Impaired Quality of Life Intervention. Granted, I am still ambulatory, I am still capable of bathing myself, wiping my backside, and accomplish lots of things around home. I still don’t need to be on a respirator 24/7, but I’m on oxygen at night. I do have ALS.
I know the pain and terror of being diagnosed with the sentence of death, of dying one neural connection at a time; the inexorable slip into the abyss of the Shadow of Death one marker at a time, one final last time for pieces of life, one after another. Twitching muscles that multiply daily, words that can’t be spoken any more, no longer able to lift a coffee cup, or reach the seat belt; the daily indignities of coughing and choking over a drink of water, half chewed food drooling into your plate, all the guttural ALS noises that you can’t control, and all the days feeling bone tired, all day long.
I know the pain and despair of this slow descent. This isn’t some miserable pulmonary flu where you adjust to discomfort and patiently put up with it because it won’t last forever, and you look for all the little signs of recovery. This carries with it the certainty that every indignity, discomfort and weakness will only grow, there will be no little signs of getting better, no ascent back to health. I HATE IT! I hate the fact this struck just when I began to hit my prime, the fact that my wife and kids have to endure this searing pain, that I can’t say “I love you” to them out loud, or that I can’t talk with them beyond a sentence or two laboriously typed on my iPad.
But dearest Gloria Taylor, at my lowest most depressed moment I have never contemplated terminating my life, assisted or not (but dear Gloria, if you are seeking state sanction to have assistance, are you so completely incapacitated you can’t find a way to do it yourself, or are you not desperate and despairing enough?). You see, for every terrible, miserable day I have, there are ten, twenty, thirty of days filled with joy, receiving love, giving love. When I live in the moment, today, rather than waiting for a day I might be wheelchair bound with a respirator mask strapped to my face, I find life is worth living. Jesus is the only reason I can do that.
And that, dear Gloria Taylor (and the rest of the world) is my confession.
The only reason I keep getting up, continue to take one moment followed by another, constantly search for joy, is because I love Jesus more than anything. I love him because he first loved me. Because I belong to Jesus, life has meaning even as I inch into death’s abyss. My life is worth living in spite of ALS because Jesus gives me access to God-quality life; he is the way to God-truth and God-quality life.
I’m praying for you, Gloria Taylor, that in the middle of your pain and suffering you will no longer seek death, but to squeeze everything possible out of your remaining life by finding Jesus, the only source of true, joyful God-quality life. Spend less time with that politically motivated lawyer and find someone who knows Jesus to spend it with instead.
Wishing you much Grace,