There is nothing funny about death. Even the most humorous, cartoonesque physical halt – a piano splattering – is still a bloody serious mess.
Often, it is only in the aftermath of a wake that one chooses to break down or laugh about it all (especially if the chuckle comes out a bit off-key). Both responses can involve tears. Both can make us pee ourselves. And both may be some of the same reaction to the hilarious accident of a life that began only to end one day. After all, tears may come from distilled and captured laughter, and laughter may be born from dry and tired tears.
Some people, though, choose neither of these options. Instead, they beat through a path of resistance, and swamp through life’s inevitable end with futile punches and kicks until they are swallowed whole like a spoon in pudding. Sometimes, they even make a glurppp sound.
These individuals deny the death of dying. In their crazy, hungry eyes, there is only one dignified route to the end: a prolonged struggle that ends in absolute peace. It is in that final closing of the eyes, in that all-encompassing last breath. It might even be in a fart or two that squeaks out when the body’s muscles fully relax. Who knows?
But these proponents of the dignity of life forget that the art of death is anything but dignified. Besides the shittery and smells that come with the expiry date, death is often followed by pain so severe and frequent that life seems punishment enough. Other times, conditions worsen until life becomes a relative term, rather than something precious and cherished (farts and all).
The adoption of Bill 52, passed by 80% of the Members National Assembly (MNA) of Quebec on June 5th, is the first legislative, provincial pass in Canada to enshrine these beliefs. Respecting end-of-life care, the Bill outlines the circumstances where an adult patient of sound mind who suffers from endurable pain can seek medical treatment to a diseased life – that is to say, they can end their life.
A meticulous process is guaranteed by the Act of Respecting End-of-Life Care, which stipulates that the patient must demonstrate acuity, and must make a specific request to be induced in a coma until death. The patient must then have a physician agree to the demand, have a second physician confirm that this is the best form of treatment, and both must ensure there is “no external pressure”. Only then may a physician “administer such aid personally and take care of the patient until their death”.
Veronique Hivon, the Vice Chair of Dying with Dignity and MNA of Joliette, stressed, “It isn’t euthanasia. It is medical aid in dying.”
Of course, there is that aforementioned spoon in the pudding. It keeps digging and digging until it can take on no more, until there’s a mess everywhere, and only then does one realize they never liked tapioca anyways.
These are the futile-fighters, the people who try to control others because they are afraid of their own helter-skelter existence. Among the many are religious groups who believe euthanasia is amoral, the Federal Government who may challenge the bill on constitutional grounds, and others such as Justice Minister Peter MacKay, who believes that Quebec may be violating the Criminal Code and, thus, federal legislation.
The concerns are certainly valid, especially when they are fraught with the underlying worry of slippery slopes. One must remember that it is cheaper to pay the electricity bills by turning off all the lights.
However, the end-of-life treatment is considered just that: treatment. Like hospice or palliative care, physician-assisted death is not considered in isolation of all other options. It is the final option a patient can chose after a long, tiring battle fails.
Moreover, the Bill itself is the result of some four years of non-partisan deliberation and dialogue. Physicians were polled. Ordinary citizens’ opinions were gauged. Politicians were included in the motley crew of voices. There were many drafts, countless changes, and all concerned parties – physicians, healthy citizens, patients, and legislatures in Quebec and across Canada – were given a voice in the matter.
The funny thing is that there probably hasn’t ever been a tighter Bill introduced in Quebec.
Nevertheless, what is central to the possible federal debate is that the body is a political tool on the order of a hula-hoop. We’re supposed to twirl and not realize that we can be bent, broken, and turned into something else entirely. Only now is the possibility opening up for us not to have to spin if we don’t want to, especially if we have this kink on our side, this bend over here, and this damn cut that just won’t close.
Bill 52 ensures that a patient’s autonomy is respected in its most complete sense. Instead of constantly pandering to the wishes of others, individuals are in control of their lives and their deaths in equal measure. For, though they weren’t given a choice to be born into this world, they sure as hell – under the right conditions – can be given a choice to get out of it.
And maybe that might be the right choice for them. In fact, it may be the only cure they haven’t tried.