What does suffering mean to you?

Op-eds Opinions

Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying laws have some complications

Stock photo accessed via Pixabay.

When you reach the end of your life and your facilities begin to fail, at what point does this become suffering to you? What does suffering mean to you? Where is the final breaking point? Is it being trapped in a hospital bed? The loss of mental aptitude? Being unable to communicate? At what point does your experience of suffering become too much and you just want it to end?

For some people, this is where Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) comes in. With the help of doctors and nurses, you can choose when you die on your own terms.

But there’s a catch.

You must be mentally competent and capable of making decisions immediately before MAiD is provided.

In October of this year, a 57 year-old Halifax woman decided to pursue MAiD, but was forced to perform the procedure sooner than she would’ve liked. She was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in 2016 and had tumours in her bones, causing excruciating pain. But due to the caveat mentioned above, if her cancer or even painkillers left her mentally incompetent, the procedure would not be carried out.

Another catch is that your natural death must be foreseeable over a period of time that is not too distant.

Individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Dementia can be affected by this. A person may not be suffering from the symptoms of Dementia already, but they also don’t want to die when their mental reasoning has completely failed. Unfortunately, it is not possible to choose. They have to die within the foreseeable future to be eligible for MAiD.

There are many people who consider mental incompetency as a form of suffering, as they are unable to have a conversation with friends, or constantly feel lost and confused.

And that isn’t even considering that sometimes diagnoses aren’t reliable. A person can be told they might survive, but they can die within the month. Other times a person can be told they are going to die within a few weeks, but end up living for years.

It’s understandable why these laws were written and what they were supposed to do. When they were first being drafted, advocates for people with disabilities made it clear that protections had to be put into place so that other people couldn’t make the decision for someone else. People have pointed out that it can be difficult to determine if a person is eligible for MAiD when the can’t accurately describe their pain. And some say that having dementia makes someone mentally incompetent, but that it doesn’t equal suffering.

But I would say there are many people who consider mental incompetency as a form of suffering, as they are unable to have a conversation with friends, or constantly feel lost and confused.

Since legalized, 3 714 people went through with MAiD between Dec. 10, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2017, according to data from Health Canada. (This does not including data from the Territories.)

Things are rarely as straightforward as they first appear. When it comes to MAiD, the issue boils down to what you personally consider to be the limits of your suffering.