My mother had to starve herself to death.
Despite the groundwork laid out in the Supreme Court's Carter decision, my mother's suffering, like so many, came at an inconvenient time in our nation's legal landscape. Sadly, this inconvenience remains true even today.
Though assisted death is now officially legal in our fair country, we have yet to formalize a national framework and the debate over the specifics of the regulations seem to omit the most critical voice -- that of the individuals and families who have and continue to be subject to archaic mindsets that deny certain patients the right to end their own life, and control their own destiny.
It is imperative we hear these voices -- and so here is mine.
On October 27th, 2015, my mother, Suzette Lewis, voluntarily died of dehydration.
She had suffered from primary progressive multiple sclerosis for nearly twenty years. Prior to her debilitating illness she was a stunning, lively, charismatic, proud and independent woman. One of the first female stockbrokers in Canada; an award-winning interior designer, successful single mother and hands down one of the best cooks and entertainers you had ever met -- she was a role model to Canadian women everywhere.
Unfortunately by sixty-five years young, she was bedridden and subject to excruciating physical and emotional pain. She faced a relentless and unendurable threat to her quality of life, dignity and integrity; hours on end lying in her own urine and feces, her bones piercing through her brittle skin, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of hired help -- the list goes on.
I did everything in my power to help her, and our system did as well, but sadly there are simply not enough resources to ensure those in my mother's position have adequate medical or social assistance. Death was not reasonably foreseeable, but the remainder of a lifetime subject to intolerable pain and suffering was without question.
"No one should have to endure what we endured for the basic right to control their own body, yet, so many have."
As impeccably astute as she was, her physical deterioration left her a prisoner in her own body. She was unable to work or contribute to society in any meaningful way, her days consumed solely by basic survival. Her immense suffering manifested as physical pain, but also hopelessness, anxiety, loneliness and loss of meaning.
In short, it consumed her entire person. Continuing to live subject to an abhorrent quality of life was unbearable and thus she had an unequivocal and unwavering desire to die.
My mother's conviction on the matter never waivered, but the atrocity of the unregulated "assisted death" options before her were unnerving. I spent many a day researching access to drugs that would offer her a peaceful release (and degrade my integrity). Meet-ups with petty drug dealers, flights to veterinarians in Mexico -- in the depths of despair I considered it all.
Considerations that took time and energy I could have otherwise spent at my mother's bedside -- supporting her through her pain in her most dire time of need. In the chasm that is her absence, this is perhaps what angers me most.
But onwards I fought, and with the help of a compassionate doctor we decided on the only option that wouldn't subject us to a life in prison. Since suicide was a legal option, but assisted death was not, my mom's only permitted avenue to find solace was to starve and dehydrate herself until death. Over the next 14 days, I had to bear witness as my mother slowly wasted away. I had to hold her hand through the hunger pangs and water cravings so that she could finally achieve her wish -- freedom.
The immeasurable amount of pain one must be in to choose the strife of starvation over mere existence is a testament to how much people requesting assisted death need the peace inherent in the afterlife.
No one should have to endure what we endured for the basic right to control their own body, yet, so many have, and without a national framework upholding the Carter decision, will still have to. The disabled in particular.
My mother's death was detestable, but her quality of life more so. I do not wish for anyone to have to undergo what we did, but I have absolutely no regrets. If we were faced with the same legal landscape today (and under the proposed legislation, we would be) I would choose the same path and I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt my mother would as well.
I miss her every day, with every ounce of my being, but every ounce of my being is also proud to say that I did everything I could to help her find the respite she so certainly deserved. My greatest hope is that our nation will follow suit.
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