Life, Death and the Law: Families making end-of-life decisions
WATCH ABOVE:16×9‘s “Life, Death and the Law”
Talking about death isn’t the easiest thing for families to discuss, but 16×9’s “Life, Death and the Law” found that the conversation can be important – especially if someone in the family is gravely ill and wants to hasten their own death.
The Bennett family was one of those families. Gillian Bennett took her own life at home. She had early signs of dementia and openly discussed her plans to take her own life with her husband and two adult children.
“She said I have no intention of rotting in public. And then slowly as the years went by I came to see that this was not a whim but was a very one of — if not the — central concern of her life, to control her own exit,” said Gillian’s son, Guy Bennett.
Gillian procured a lethal dose of a barbiturate but didn’t tell her family how or where she got the drug. She was very careful to cover her tracks so no one could be implicated in her death. It’s a criminal offence in Canada to aid or abet someone to commit suicide, punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
“She — bless her heart — wouldn’t let any of us know. She said to me…. She said ‘I don’t want you to go to jail and you’re a rotten liar,'” said Gillian’s widower, Jonathan.
WATCH BELOW: Jonathan Bennett talks about his wife Gillian’s last moments
All Gillian told her family was that she planned to end her life Monday at noon. She even blogged about it, and left explicit instructions for her blog to launch online, so the world could know why she committed suicide. More importantly, Gillian explained why she thought Canada’s Assisted Death laws should change.
“She just wanted to start a conversation and that is exactly what she did,” said Guy, who continued, “To be fair, re-ignite one.”
Two months after Gillian Bennett’s death, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) went to the Supreme Court of Canada to challenge the laws that make it a crime for physicians to help competent, seriously ill individuals end their life at a time of their choosing. The BCCLA took its case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, presenting their case on Oct. 15, 2014, in Carter v. Canada, arguing that the right to control the circumstances of one’s death is integral to the life, liberty, and security of gravely ill Canadians. The BCCLA argues that section 241 of the Criminal Code violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Elayne Shapray, 68 years old, has secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. She is hoping that the court decides to strike down the law, to open up the possibility of new legislation being made that allows for physician assisted suicide.
“I want peace. I want to know when enough is enough,” says Shapray. “That there’s a doctor out there who will say ‘enough is enough.’ And there will be physicians who assist to die. That’s why I am so in favour of it.”
In absence of a law that allows for physician assisted suicide, Shapray, and others like her, say people and families are taking end-of-life matters into their own hands – sometimes breaking the law, and sometimes with disastrous consequences. Shapray says doctors – not patients – are the best people to be helping people who want to die.
“They know what they’re doing, it’s safe, it’s quick, it’s easy. And I think otherwise having people going into the back alley on Hastings Street and trying to buy drugs…You are going to find out that you are in the hospital because the drugs didn’t work,” she told 16×9. “It’s pretty horrific for you and horrific for your family,” she said.
Elayne won’t say what her end-of-life plans are. For now, she’s enjoying time with her family and waiting to see the outcome of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision.
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