Life, death and the message of Steven Fletcher

by Pam Dillon
A dozen years ago I was with my mom in an elevator when we met a man in a wheelchair. In the time it took to get from the ground floor to the 5th, we learned a little about him. He was a middle-aged dad and a few years prior to our encounter, he had been up on a ladder hanging Christmas lights. You can imagine what happened. The fall left him unable to move from his neck down. 
And we were in the elevator of a nursing home. 
This was the place where he now resided and where I was taking my mother to stay.
My mom had said, many times, she would rather die than live in a nursing home. However, she, too, was disabled; she had a progressive, debilitating disease and it was no longer safe for her to live on her own. In that elevator, we were both reminded that no one’s future is certain. That anyone’s reality can change in an instant. 
Would my mom really have rather died than gone to live in that place? I don’t know. There was no choice. My dad lived two floors up from her in the locked ward. 
If you haven’t yet, I urge you to read Andrew Duffy’s November 21 story in the Ottawa Citizen: Steven Fletcher’s line in the sand. There’s also a video in which the federal MP—who is a quadriplegic—clearly articulates why he fights for the right to die with dignity. Having spent a lot of time in long-term care facilities, and with people who suffered tremendously, and with people whose quality of life might best be described as existence, I believe he speaks for those who do not have a voice.
In the Ottawa nursing home where my godmother lived for the end of her days, there was a directive on her chart. It told care providers to not take any extra measures to extend her life. She was there to die. My aunt had complex health issues and, at the point when she opted not to continue with kidney dialysis, it was expected she would die within weeks or a few months. That’s not what happened. In the two or three years she spent at that particular local address, we got to know its sights and sounds and rhythms.  The occasional moans and calls for help coming from down the hall, the wandering cat, the afternoon cookies and juice, the woman whose visible pain and rigid, involuntary movements compelled passersby to flinch and look away.  
Moddycom was one of the women who shared a table with my aunt at lunch. She’d had a stroke. She sat in a wheelchair, cried freely, spoke two words: Moddycom and Yeees. That’s all she had.  “Moddycom?” she would ask, arms reaching out, tears streaming down to soak her bib. “Moddycom moddycom moddycom?”
As my godmother/aunt’s health deteriorated, she was twice sent to the hospital though her care wishes were in writing. 
At the time of her death—because an anxious worker had called an ambulance—she spent two days in a bed in the hallway of an emergency department. Tests were conducted. For her final hours, a room was found for privacy. 

I think she deserved better.
I think you and I deserve better. There are people with profound disabilities, with terminal health conditions, with severe functional limitations or unbelievable challenges who embrace life and want to live no matter what. 
There are others who do not.
What are their rights?
Assisted death may be a contentious topic,  but it’s one that must be considered, explored and discussed. 
What’s your opinion?
Let’s talk. 
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