With the Supreme Court of Canada grudgingly giving the federal government a little more time to prepare legislation on physician- assisted dying, and Canada’s largest Roman Catholic Archdiocese joinining the debate, saying that it seeks to “protect vulnerable groups under Canada’s new law, and ensure that medical professionals who object to doctor-assisted dying on moral and religious grounds are exempt from providing those services”, I suspect that this issue is on the minds of many.
Several times this winter, my neighbour B. and I have met in our driveays, leaned on our snowshovels and chatted. B., a retired man somewhere in his seventies, is caring for his wife, who is dying of cancer and is struggling to manage her bodily functions and pain levels. She has told B. that she would gladly die now if she could find someone to help her, which I can tell is distressing to him. How many households across Canada have similar situations, I wonder.
Today I learned about Anne Neumann, who is a visiting scholar at the Center for Religion and Media at New York University. Neuman has just published a book called “The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America”.
In this brief review published by the Religion New Service, Kimberly Winston notes that according to Neumann, religion is never greatest in our social life than at the time of dying, and religion influences laws and health care practices that work against assisted dying.
“Religion is most prevalent around the deathbed in our country,” Neumann, 47, said in a phone interview from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y. “That is where it is resoundingly proven that we are not a secular nation.”
“The laws, medical practices and corporate regulations that surround death and dying continue to be strongly influenced by religion, whether it is in the delivery of health care through Catholic hospitals, whether it is in the rituals that medical practice is infused with, or whether it is simply in the language that we find acceptable around the dying.”
At the end of the day, Neumann argues, the dying should be the ones who decide how they die.
“A good death is whatever a patient wants,” Neumann said. “It is not up to me, to their legislators, to their priests, to their families. That is true informed consent. A good enough death is as close as we can get because humans are not perfect. We can get so much closer, but we will never have a perfect death.”
Another person who seems likely to agree with Neuman, and who has also just written on the subject, is the incomparable Diane Rehm, a broadcaster on US public radio whose husband of 54 years recently died of Parkinsons. Here is an excerpt of her interview with Jeffrey Brown ot the PBS NewsHour:
Now in a new book titled “On My Own,” she’s addressing a more personal an raw topic, the death of her husband John after 54 years of marriage. John was dying owed with Parkinson’s disease in 2005 and moved into an assisted living facility in 2012.
Two years later, in steady decline, he decided to end his life. But with doctors legally barred from assisting, his only option was to refuse food, liquids and medication. His death came 10 days later. Diane Rehm lives alone now with her dog Maxie and with lingering grief and anger over her husband’s last days.
DIANE REHM: I so resented that John was having to go through this long 10-day process to die. He had said 10 days earlier he was ready to die, and it took him that long. It shouldn’t have, I don’t believe, taken him that long.
JEFFREY BROWN: You write: “I rage at a system that wouldn’t allow John to be helped toward his own death.”
He knew what he was going through. You two had talked this through, and he just wanted to let it happen.
DIANE REHM: He wanted to relinquish life. He didn’t commit suicide. He wanted to let go of life and be on to the next journey.
Diane Rehm’s book would be a good companion to Neumann’s, I think. Both are on my list.