By Charles Lewis
For those who know me or have heard me speak against assisted suicide and euthanasia, you will be familiar with my struggle with spinal problems. I realize that my testimony about my own experience with horrific pain was fair game to use in my arguments against legalized euthanasia, given that legalized killing in this country would also include those with chronic pain.
Pain is universal. It is almost a common denominator of our humanity. Some lucky few will escape the worst of it or will only be plagued for a short time. For me it is now four years and counting. During that time I was forced to leave my beloved newspaper, The National Post, and my position as religion reporter — the greatest beat I had during my 33 years in journalism. And with that I lost the addictive camaraderie of the newsroom.
I was forced to cease nearly every activity I loved: cycling, hiking in the Rockies and moderate consumption of beer and wine — as well as the odd glass of bourbon or single malt scotch. The decision to stop drinking was not my own choice but the reality that after taking morphine every day it is simply too dangerous to consume alcohol.
None of these things should elicit pity. But my condition, along with two surgeries, knocked me into a world I did not expect to visit for many more years.
Pain is isolating. It can play mental tricks on you. It can make you sick to your stomach on some days and cause long bouts of insomnia. And then there is the isolation and the overriding feeling of worthlessness when you are no longer vital and creative.
In the Netherlands and Belgium those with chronic pain, as well as those with depression and other forms of mental illness, can qualify for state-sanctioned suicide. It appears from the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision of last February, when the Court ruled on assisted suicide and by extension euthanasia, that it will not only be the dying who will be granted the wish to die from a physician’s needle.
People who know more than me say that if I were a resident of either Holland or Belgium I could find a fast exit from this life. I believe sadly that the same option will be available to me and others like me in the near future in Canada.
While I was in the worst of the pain, I began to take stock of my situation. One thing about being alone and also suffering from insomnia that was there is plenty of time to think.
I realized that for all my problems, I was still in a good situation. In other words, it was easier for me to be sick than many others.
There was very good disability insurance from work. I had great support from my wife, Kathryn, and from friends and colleagues. My wife has a good job. We have no debts and our home is paid off. This sounds like bragging but it is not to boast that I bring this up. It meant that all I had to worry about was getting well. I was not going to wind up in the street, I did not have to worry about how we would put food on the table or pay our bills. I am also a devout Catholic and the Church assisted me in ways too many to name.
Many people work in jobs that have no security. Benefits that used to be the norm are no longer being provided. This trend of contract labour, I believe, will soon be the norm. It may already be.
Now imagine these same people grievously ill. Think of all the things they will struggle to afford: rent, mortgage payments, food, and clothing for their children. Unless you happen to be lucky enough to have a good spouse or great friends, everything will become a monumental chore.
I remember it taking me all day to work up the strength to take a shower or even go downstairs for a meal.
Worse still, imagine living with someone who is simply fed up with your complaints and who makes that clear every day. Not everyone is bound for sainthood or even capable of compassion.
Now imagine you can let go of all your cares and woes with a simple visit to the doctor or a clinic? Instead of getting advice on how to cope and get through it, you are offered death. Painless, quick and a reliever of all pain and worry. No worry about botching a suicide and being left in even worse shape.
I have actually heard people I know, friends, listen to this argument and respond by saying: 'Well, isn’t it a good thing that people will have an out?'
I would like to think that I would never take my own life. But I also realize that my situation helped give me the means to fight back. And when I was tired or just overwhelmed I could at least be comforted by a warm home and someone I love always making sure I was okay.
Without all that my anguish would have gone through the roof. I might have lost hope. And without hope death can seem like your only friend.