Physicians shouldn’t have to take lives

Ending a life is not an easy decision. No matter what the circumstances are, the decision should never be taken lightly.

Faith-based hospitals in Alberta are facing criticism for denying patients physician-assisted suicide. Patients seeking this must transfer to a secular hospital for the request to be honoured. The transfer can be quite painful for patients who are in massive amounts of pain as it is. The criticism extends beyond the hospitals to the government for allowing hospitals to refuse patient this right as it currently granted by Alberta law.

Bottom line, assisted suicide is a very complex issue. There is no right answer. To say anyone is wrong on their stance forgets that many people have very likely never been in a situation like this and I hope it stays that way. While I agree with patients’ right to die peacefully rather than live a painful life, it’s vital to remember that grief and trauma does weird things to everyone involved.

I heard the argument once that doctors have a professional and moral duty to do what’s best for the patient. Some may argue that the physician-assisted suicide may be the best option for the patient and that is a fair argument.  I will argue, however, that it’s not true that it won’t have an effect on the physician as it is their job as a doctor and they lose people all the time. Doctors are still human. They may be able to put on a stoic face to perform their duties, but behind closed doors, we can’t claim to have any idea the effect their job has. To put this in a similar perspective, my family owned and operated a funeral home. My uncle and grandfather saw people at their absolute worst. Some funerals bothered them, despite the professionalism they portrayed. They owned this business in a small town, so sometimes they conducted the funerals of people they knew. They were professional and did their job, but it would still bother them. To relate that to doctors, they’ll be in situations that would weigh on them heavily. Ending a life would not be an action that a physician should and would take lightly. They should reserve the right to refuse this service, for the sake of their mental health.

People also deserve the right to fight, or least the idea of hope. Families are facing a difficult time as it is dealing with the idea of a terminal illness, and they don’t need this choice looming over them. Physician-assisted suicide should never be an option presented. People deserve the right to beat the odds, or at least try to. Their families deserve the right to have hope, regardless how delusional it is. Imagine a nine-year-old trying to comprehend the situation. They are losing their grandfather to stage IV lung cancer. That grandfather makes to choose to “die with dignity.” That nine-year-old may never understand completely what he did, but they may just come out with the resentment that his grandparent gave up. That causes wounds that may never heal, the hollow comfort being that they’re no longer in pain, which doesn’t bring them back. I understand why some people would want it, and they are well within their rights. I also understand why some people wouldn’t want it, they are also well within their rights.

To make the issue personal, in 2016 I lost a family member to cancer. From the time of diagnosis to his death, it was six months. The reality was that by the time the cancer was discovered, it was already too late. The chemotherapy he underwent was to, more or less, prolong the inevitable. Those six months were the hardest period our family went through. I’m happy that we had that time though. It may have been awful, but there are moments that shone through. Moments, for me personally, that helped me gain closure on the life he led and the impact he had. He deserved the right to fight cancer. It didn’t matter that the fight was over, it was the hope that it wasn’t that mattered. I wouldn’t want that feeling stripped from anyone.

I think the issue I have with the debate is our modern culture’s obsession with death, especially in its relation to dignity. Death’s not romantic, grandiose or poetic. There’s no greater meaning from it. There’s no life lesson to derive it. Death isn’t elegant or special. It just sucks, and it hurts. When I think back to those I have lost, I think of the lyrics of Jason Isbell,

I’ve buried (them) a thousand times, given up my place in line

But I don’t give a damn about that now

There’s one thing that’s real clear to me:

No one dies with dignity

We just try to ignore the elephant somehow

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