As readers of this column are acutely aware, I am an outspoken opponent of euthanasia and assisted suicide. So it seems an odd twist of fate that last April my father, the man I love and admire most in this world, received the same diagnosis that has led many euthanasia advocates to take their own lives: an incurable brain tumour.
Not long after Dad’s diagnosis, I was out for coffee with a friend who asked me point blank whether my family’s experience had changed my stance on euthanasia. This may seem a bold question, but I had already asked this question of myself so I was not offended. In fact, I am probably the only person on the planet who would welcome the opportunity to talk about how my family’s experience has affected my continued opposition to euthanasia.
One of the main reasons I have been opposed to euthanasia is that I believe vulnerable people will feel pressured into choosing suicide if it becomes a socially acceptable option. I can now speak from experience when I say that the health care system is an intimidating and sometimes terrifying place.
Fortunately, during his hospitalizations my father has been surrounded by a loving family, and when it became evident that hospital life was crushing his spirits, my mother resolved to bring him home for as long as she could. I can only imagine the hopelessness Dad would have experienced if he had been forced to face this cancer alone, and I shudder when I think about how such people will be managed a few years from now when euthanasia becomes routine practice.
But I don’t want to dwell on this for too long because it can be tempting to forget that most of the health care professionals we have met have been committed to helping my dad live his life to the fullest. Instead, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what a gift it has been to our family that euthanasia has not been among the options we have considered for my dad.
Dad’s path over the past few months has had several twists and turns, and I am sure there are moments when he felt like throwing in the towel. I can’t help but wonder, though, if he were going to choose euthanasia, when would he have done it? Right after his diagnosis? But then we would have missed our family reunion in the summer. When he was stuck in the hospital for two months? But then he would have missed all of my mom’s glorious cooking. Perhaps when he was stable at home with my mother caring for him? But then he would have missed so many opportunities to listen to his grandchildren play. Perhaps he would do it now during his admission to a palliative care unit? But then he would have missed hearing me sing off key to him.
My experience with my dad has taught me that there is never a good moment to say goodbye to someone you love, and I am so grateful that it is not up to us to figure out when that moment is. All I can do is spend my days letting him know how much I love him, which, quite frankly, is something I should have been doing all along.
I hope he can complete this journey with the fewest bumps possible, but I am not entering into this next stage of life naively. There will be painful moments ahead, but I will keep watch with my dad because that is what love does. Our Christian faith has shielded us from making any decisions about when to say goodbye, but more than that, it has taught us how to embrace life with its sufferings and its joys, trusting that we will be reunited in the resurrection.
Losing my father will be the most difficult thing I have ever faced, but I take great comfort in knowing that I am not tossing him away. I am just handing him off to someone who will love him far better than I ever could.
Deutscher holds an MA in Public Ethics from St. Paul University in Ottawa. She recently attained a PhD in public policy at the University of Saskatchewan.