Kyle Slavin: Death’s shades of grey

When I read that Jack Kevorkian died a couple weeks back, my immediate reaction was, “Good riddance.”

I quickly realized that was far from what I truly felt. My initial response stemmed from what I remember overhearing about Kevorkian as an impressionable child.

When I read that Jack Kevorkian died a couple weeks back, my immediate reaction was, “Good riddance.”

I quickly realized that was far from what I truly felt. My initial response stemmed from what I remember overhearing about Kevorkian as an impressionable child.

While the man dubbed Dr. Death was making headlines in the mid-1990s, I was learning from elementary school teachers about the difference between right and wrong. Decisions, I learned, are black and white.

Killing is bad. Jack Kevorkian killed people. Ergo, Kevorkian is a bad man. Right? That’s how my naive eyes saw it back then.

There didn’t exist, in any Grade 2 lesson plan, an explanation of moral grey areas. No lesson plan touched on such topics as euthanasia, suicide or chronic illness.

Since then, I’ve learned a thing or two about Jack and his motives, and how perception of doctor-assisted suicide runs the gamut through every shade of grey imaginable.

With Kevorkian’s recent passing, we lose an undeniable pioneer whose stalwart support for a patient’s right to choose should not go unnoticed. With his death, the debate over the legality and morality of doctor-assisted suicide should reopen.

As it stands, family members and doctors can make end of life decisions, such as removing a loved one from a life support ventilator; deciding to pull the plug, if you will.

Denying a patient his or her right to choose, because he or she can breathe without the help of a machine or isn’t vegetative, unfairly denies that person of compassion and the decency of human life.

There is more to living than just breathing on your own, or having a heart or kidneys that function.

Quality of life is the most crucial part of being, and when your own suffering escalates to the point where you feel your final days lack any quality, what reason is there to be denied that choice?

To live does not mean to lie in bed until your body ultimately gives up.

It’s hard enough losing a loved one, but seeing them wither away because there is no alternative – even if they so wish – is even harder.

Doctor-assisted suicide is not euthanasia. The doctor does not inject potassium chloride willy-nilly nor does he put a cyanide pill in every patient’s mouth.

Doctor-assisted suicide allows the doctor to supply the lethal medication, not administer it. The power is ultimately in the hands of the terminally ill patient.

Three U.S. states, including Washington and Oregon, have laws supporting doctor-assisted suicides as long as a number of criteria are met, including the patient having to make three different requests over 15 days for the prescription, and two separate doctors needing to support the request.

Those opposed to doctor-assisted suicide need to ask themselves what harm an option like this does to their own lives.

It’s not a mandatory procedure, and it comes down to being a personal choice for the patient.

According to the B.C. College of Physicians, end of life care “must strive to address the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of patients,” and should heed the patient’s “affirmation of the whole person.” (The whole person being more than a pained, sickly shell of their former self just waiting for death.)

The decision is the patient’s. End of life care should respect and address the wishes and concerns of only the patient and their family. For that reason, one’s choice to end their own terminal suffering should not be a societal debate.

Kevorkian, as a medical doctor, broke the dated rules and faced criminal consequences. But as a compassionate human, not a man maliciously hellbent on murder, he crusaded for a patient’s right to choose and fought, until his death, to clear up the fog clouding society’s thickest grey area.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

Kyle Slavin is a reporter

with the Saanich News.