Dying With Dignity

Let's face it. We're all going to die. You. Me. Our parents. Our children. Friends. Neighbours. Co-workers. Even our pets.

It makes me wonder why we have so much trouble accepting the inevitable, especially in artificially prolonging life when a person's entire quality of existence is gone, never to return, and they spend their final days suffering -- not just in pain and discomfort, but in a total loss of their dignity as a human being.

During my time as a coroner, I heard from a lot of family members about the agony that not only the deceased suffered in their final days, but what the ones left behind endured. Inevitably, that led to discussions about mercy killing.

The ethics of euthanasia was also a topic behind closed doors within my medical and legal colleagues. Without question, there are cases of assisted suicide that are overlooked by the authorities, and I'm sure that some of the "natural" deaths in seniors care homes are "helped along" by a generous dose of painkiller.

Several years ago I watch as my 95-year-old mother wasted away in the final months of her long and fulfilled life. It was absolute agony -- not so much for Mum, because she was medicated to the point of being mostly unconscious, but for myself and other family members. To see such a vibrant person punished by dragging out her journey to everlasting peace and tranquility was heartbreaking.

I did a lot of soul searching during that time.

I'll admit that it was tempting to intervene and put Mum out of her misery. I know that's what she wanted because we'd had that discussion, but the legal ramifications were far too serious to consider bringing that monster into the family. S, we just bided our time while she literally wasted away in a nursing home bed until her life and dignity exhausted.

I wouldn't treat my dog that way. When Tobi's quality of life is gone, I'll take him into the vet and have him put to sleep. After all, it's the humane thing to do.

So why are we so cruel to our fellow humans?

I say the problem lies in the hands of our legal system. Not our justice system. Our legal system.

There's a fine line between the moral and practical approach to death. It's the moral tail that wags the practical dog in the debate over euthanasia, and it needs to be put to rest.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating involuntary euthanasia or playing God against a terminally-ill person's wishes. That's a slippery slope for society to slide.

I'm talking about the legalization of medically-assisted suicide when the patient -- in sound mind -- has clearly expressed their desire to be put to death when their quality of life has expired.

We've been using Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders for years, and our system totally accepts the moral and legal reasoning behind them. We also "pull the plug" on people who are brain dead, but their body still functions.

What I want for myself, and I've told my next of kin this, is a Put Me Out Of Misery (PMOOM) order. When my quality of life is gone, the last thing I want to do is unnecessarily delay the inevitable. Out of sheer respect for my dignity, somebody please push me over the edge.

I believe it's the humane thing to do, but that's just my opinion.

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Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and forensic coroner, now bestselling crime writer. Garry lives on Vancouver Island on Canada's west coast and hosts the popular blog DyingWords.net.