Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
It's time we focused on quality of death
THE debate over euthanasia is always simmering just below the surface of Canadian society and occasionally it bubbles over, as it is doing today with the release on full parole of Robert Latimer, convicted of the 1993 so-called mercy killing of his 12-year-old daughter.
That debate is not likely to be settled any time soon, no matter how much public attention it receives. There is, however, another compelling issue associated with both mercy and death that passes largely ignored by the Canadian people and their politicians, even though it touches directly on the lives of many of us. Ultimately, the question of how to make dying an easier, less terrifying prospect affects us all.
Dying is a scary business for most people, and one of its most frightening aspects is the pain that might be associated with it. The most effective way of managing severe pain in the terminally ill is heroin, but it is virtually impossible to obtain in a hospital or hospice setting.
One can buy it on almost any street corner in almost any city in Canada, but doctors cannot obtain it legally and safely for a cancer patient living out her last few days or hours in excruciating agony that can't really be touched by any other painkiller.
Free Press medical columnist W. Gifford-Jones recently pointed out that Britain, the only Western nation where the medical use of heroin is allowed to treat the terminally ill, is also ranked as the best place on Earth to die, largely because of that -- Canada is ninth.
The primary cause of the pain the terminally ill feel is, of course, their disease -- usually cancer. But Canadians and the politicians they elect cannot escape responsibility for what can only be called needless suffering perpetuated by their archaic and careless attitudes toward the beneficial uses of heroin in medicine.
We like to talk a lot about quality of life in this country. It is past time we concentrated more realistically on how we can improve the quality of death.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 26, 2011 H12
(1 of 23 articles for this week)