Right-to-die opponents say Canadians need better palliative care

CALGARY – It’s been less than a year since the MacPhersons lost their mother, Mary.  The 78-year-old passed away in February of brain cancer.

“Early on in her diagnosis, I did have a long discussion with mom about the end of her life and what the would look like. I promised her that I would help her as much as I could to make she wasn’t in pain,” Michelle MacPherson said.

Mary MacPherson spent the last eight months of her life in hospice, receiving palliative care. Her family said they have precious memories from the time they were all able to spend together there.

“Mom used to love playing cards, and we’d get the grand-kids together, and we’d come to the hospice. We’d be able to have a great, comfortable setting where we could all sit at the table, play cards and have fun,” Mary’s son, Greg MacPherson, said.

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It’s this kind of death–surrounded by love and comforted by palliative care–that leaders of more than 30 Canadian Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith groups say they’re trying to protect. In October, they stood at Parliament Hill to release a declaration, expressing opposition to physician-assisted suicide, while calling for leaders to ensure all Canadians have access to quality end of life care.

“We urge federal, provincial and territorial legislators to enact and uphold laws that enhance human solidarity by promoting the rights to life and security for all people; to make good-quality home care and palliative care accessible in all jurisdictions,” the declaration reads.

READ MORE: Life and Death Decisions Part I – Alberta family awaits right-to-die legislation after traumatic death

Calgary’s Dr. Leonie Herx specializes in palliative care. Her goal, she says, is to limit any physical and emotional suffering for patients who are dying, but she doesn’t want to end anyone’s life. A recent survey found she’s not alone.

The Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians surveyed its members in January 2015.  Seventy-three per cent said they were opposed to legalized euthanasia; 69 per cent opposed assisted suicide.  Seventy-four per cent said if either euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide was legalized, it should not be provided by palliative care services.

Herx fears when the option is offered to Canadians, they’ll choose it without considering other kinds of help.

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“I’m very worried that people will choose physician death or hastened death without knowing what tools are out there for them, or they’re in an area where palliative care services aren’t available.”

Michelle MacPherson said because of her faith, an early death was never something her mother considered. Still, she believes her mother died a good death, living a good life for every moment that she had.

“I was very thankful that we had each and every day with her. There was great dignity seeing her live her life right to the end.”

In Part III of “Life and Death Decisions,” the Canadian Medical Association explains how doctors across the country have been preparing for physician-assisted suicide to become legal in 2016.

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