By Kaitlyn Schaeffer
Gillian Bennet took her own life on August 18th of this year by ingesting a fatal dose of Nembutal on a cliff near her home. Ms. Bennet had previously been diagnosed with dementia, and in an effort to avoid a “long and terrifying descent” into this mysterious disease, she opted to take matters into her own hands. The act and the blog she wrote (Dead at Noon) detailing her decision process have made her the face of the assisted suicide debate in Canada.
Currently, assisted suicide is illegal in Canada, but national polling indicates that most Canadians support the idea for those who suffer from terminal illnesses. An Environics poll conducted in 2013 found that 70% of the population believes doctors should be able to assist such patients who seek to end their lives.
However, the case for assisted suicide for patients who suffer from neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, is more complicated. Patients must be competent in order to make such a weighty decision, because only competent patients have the ability to make informed choices. “In no case” would a person with dementia be able to take advantage of the proposed doctor assisted suicide laws, explains James Downar, a physician and co-chair of the physicians advisory to the advocacy group Dying with Dignity. Downer noted that this applies even to those patients who draw up living wills indicating their wishes while they are still competent: “the moment that these persons no longer can make decisions for themselves, we lose certainty that this is what they want.”
Tricky cases such as these have not put the brakes on the political movement to legalize doctor-assisted suicide, however. In March of this year, Tory MP Steven Fletcher introduced two bills that “would allow for assisted suicide in some cases and establish an independent watchdog agency that would monitor the system.” In the months that followed, many members of Parliament quietly signed onto the second bill. Mr. Fletcher believes that this legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction.
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