June 5, 2013 10:57 pm

Dying ALS patient and his doctors speak out against assisted suicide

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MONTREAL – Quebec’s National Assembly is expected to table the dying with dignity bill in the coming days, legalizing assisted suicide in this province. Most of the province’s MNA’s have said they would vote in favour of passing the bill but some doctors are speaking out against what they call medical murder. 

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“Every life is valuable, even the sick patients, even those with chronic illness and we mustn’t let them get to that state where they’ve so severely given up,” said Dr. Paul Saba, a family physician and patients rights advocate. Dr. Saba is one of 400 members of the Physicians Alliance for the Total Refusal of Euthanasia, who see legalizing assisted suicide as a dangerous decision.

One of Saba’s patients is also speaking out against euthanasia, from his bedside in Lachine. 

Sixty-five year old Francis Humphrey spent the last 35 years of his life preaching at the People’s Church of Montreal. But now he can only communicate one letter at a time. Humphrey is in the final stages of ALS, a degenerative illness also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The pastor can no longer move a muscle. He’s confined to a bed and can’t sit up due to severe bed sores. He breathes through a respirator and eats through a feeding tube. Still, Humphrey is desperately hanging on to life and determined to take a stand against euthanasia. He just recently published a book tackling the issue and his wife is just as determined to get their message across.

If somebody in his situation can speak out against euthanasia, I think it’s significant because he’s experiencing the type of illness that people want to commit suicide over,” said Daria Humphrey who has been by her husband’s side ever since he was diagnosed in 2005. She worries about what the impending law will do to others living a similar situation.

I think it’s scary, I think that people would have to start walking around with papers in their pockets saying ‘don’t kill me’,” said Daria Humphrey.

The pastor’s medical team also fears what will happen the day euthanasia can be prescribed by physicians. Both Saba and and Dr. Ron Olivenstein, medical director at the MUHC’s Chest Institute, say they will never agree to give their patients that option. They see it as an unethical cost-cutting measure that may make the most vulnerable patients feel pressure to chose death over treatment and pain-control.

The first solution is to provide the proper care so that patient can go through these stages in comfort, being surrounded with excellent medical care,” said Olivenstein.

The reality is that only one out of every five Quebecers has access to palliative care. Part of the new legislation aims to improve that statistic by increasing end of life care.

Malpractice lawyer Jean-Pierre Ménard helped draft the dying with dignity bill and insists it was designed to give patients more options when death is imminent. And only those who meet a long list of criteria will be eligible.

“It will be impossible under the new provision of the law that any end of life decision be imposed on anybody who won’t have chosen this process,” said Ménard.

According to his doctors, Humphrey could live for another two years. His wife admits it’s not easy but she can’t imagine the alternative.

We’re just waiting and being thankful for every day that we have and we’ll let the lord work his plan.”

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