“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.” ― Michael J. Fox
This week the Canadian Parliament will be dealing with Bill C-14, an amendment of the Criminal Code focused on medical assistance in dying. The topic of “death with dignity” has been raging in this country for the past 25 years and hopefully this brings it to its apex. One can only hope it finally gets settled but hell I thought the whole separation of Quebec was behind us, silly me.
Up to this point I have stayed pretty quiet on the whole Bill C-14 issue because it is to personal to me. I am not capable of any objectivity on this issue so for me to debate it is just putting more money into some prescription blood pressure medication. I stay out of the public debate because I know I will be unable to compromise on this one. There are already too many people arguing this from an ideological rather than objective perspective so there is no sense in me throwing kerosene onto this fire.
What I do want to know is why I should trust their decision. Until they can show me they understand “living with dignity” they will never convince me I should listen to any decision regarding death with dignity. First demonstrate you know how to live with dignity. Show me you understand the importance of self-worth. In BC if you are on disability benefits that means your self-worth is $977/month. Good luck with dignity there.
Growing up in the hospital I learnt early to be my own counsel. If you didn’t then you were constantly dependent on someone else and never learnt to be independent. Those years in the hospital were formidable developmental years and laid the foundations for what would later become my belief system. If you didn’t get the right message regarding independence early in the hospital your chance at an independent life just disappears. I knew kids who aged out of the Children’s and went straight to extended care centres. Not a huge boast to the old dignity when your 18 and sitting in the sunroom with a bunch of 80 year olds (no disrespect meant to todays seniors). My sense of independence became my religion and nothing was going to get in the way of it, almost to a fault. When I aged out the hospital I hit the road and never looked back.
I’m not referring to the hospitals of today, pyramids of technology, research, learning and the occasional good new story for the hospital foundations annual fund raiser. Hospitals with bright, vibrant colour schemes to mask the blackness felt by so many families. These are realities of a hospital but the side we pretend isn’t there to allow for some dignity to the family and child.
No the type of hospital I grew up in is more like a scene from “Cider House Rules“. When you have grown up in an environment where poking and prodding is common place dignity is really subjective. By the time I reached a point in my life where I could understand dignity, my foundation was pretty libertarian. I value dignity but I also recognize the need to be responsible for oneself. Without some dignity it is hard to feel respected or wanted. Show me some living with dignity before you start telling me about death with dignity. Let’s define “dignity” before we start putting it in front of death.
And for those of you that want to play the semantic game with terms like “assisted suicide” or “medically assisted death” or any other emotive creating descriptor, give it a fucking rest. If your opposed to death with dignity then you better be prepared to offer a very good alternative in “living with dignity”.
While you’re sitting around in your boardroom discussions, reading the latest studies and looking at the best practices of other countries everyday Canadians are having to fight for some dignity in their lives. When individuals like François Marcotte have to run crowd sourcing programs so they can receive more than one bath a week in a care centre, where’s the dignity.
Where’s the dignity in kicking an 84 year old off her walker? She was just sitting there…dignity? I think not. And where’s the dignity in punching a 70 year old wheelchair user in the face while on a stroll with her daughter. If anything dignity appears to be dissipating in this country. I turn 66 on tomorrow so that 70 year old out strolling with her daughter was pretty close to home. No wonder social isolation is growing.
So bring it on, mock, vandalize or assault my dignity but know I will never surrender it. I will leave you with one of my poems for today…
Friends and Self
Our life has many ups and downs,
We question why we’re here,
But deep inside we know ourselves,
Loss of friends is what we fear.
Is it our expectations?
Or the way that others act,
That makes us really doubt ourselves,
Over how our friends react.
We put our faith in people,
And trust in all our friends,
So when our world does crumble,
We justify the ends.
But friendships can be fragile,
And often not so true,
True friends are more accepting,
Of all the things we do.
We do not need a preacher,
Or friends that leave us high,
The truest friends are those,
That stay when the others fly.
So recognize what’s in you,
You are the only one,
You truly can depend on,
When all is said and done.
Terry Wiens – Feb 2005