This weeks theme in the breast cancer blogosphere is brought to you by Brittany Maynard – the 29-year old with incurable brain cancer that moved to Oregon so that she could choose when and where she would die. Interestingly, at about the same time a case went to the supreme court of Canada relating to doctor assisted death for terminally ill competent adult patients who are suffering. It will be about six months before we get to hear the results of the supreme court ruling – however, The Dying With Dignity Canada website points out that 84% of Canadians are in favor of physician assisted death under very specific conditions – the question they were asked is “A doctor should be able to help someone end their life if the person is a competent adult who is terminally ill, suffering unbearably and repeatedly asks for assistance to die” (Ipsos Reid, p.4).
When it was in the news, I commented several times, that we were talking about doctor assisted death, not doctor assisted suicide. I think that is important. It is part of the slippery slope that people are concerned about. We are not talking about helping someone who is depressed or mentally ill to take their own life. We are talking about helping someone who is terminally ill, in pain, and who is mentally competent to choose how they die.
In the US there is another angle of concern – that is of insurance and cost. There is a worry that if doctor assisted death was a less expensive option, that insurance companies would then not pay for life-sustaining treatments. That is a scary idea, but it is a separate problem. It should not be used as an emotional (fear factor) string that prevents people from being given a choice.
When you are diagnosed with a critical illness, one of the most difficult things is that you lose control. You are no longer in control of what your body is doing. The treatments you need are often another loss of control. As a patient, you often fight to take control over whatever you can. Small things (like shaving your head before your hair falls out) make a big difference to your well being.
As a self-professed control freak, I am often frustrated about the lack of control I have. Each time I’m given a choice in my treatment, that is a way in which I can assert some control over what is happening to me; however, the side effects constantly remind me that I’m not truly in control.
So, when I first saw the story about Brittany Maynard I was encouraged. When I saw the news about Dying with Dignity and the supreme court in Canada I was encouraged. I was encouraged to know that if I end up in her shoes – with an untreatable/incurable brain tumor, in pain – that I would have a choice. I don’t think, I know. If I were in her shoes, I too would move to get access to the medications that would give me a choice about when to die. I don’t know whether I would actually use them, but I would ensure that I was in a position to have that choice. Because, I would need to feel that I was the one in control, not the disease.