What about assisted suicide's impact on those left behind?

The following article was published in the Montreal Gazette on March 9, 2015

By Derek Miedema

“No man is an island” said John Donne. We are not only radical individuals. Our lives and our deaths have profound consequences for those we love and those who love us. How we die is not solely our domain, but touches families, friends and our communities.

The makeshift roadside memorials and ghost bikes chained to light posts on busy city corners remind us that how one leaves the world lingers long after the last breath. Suffering does not end at death — not for those left behind.

When the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the prohibition on euthanasia and assisted suicide in the name of personal autonomy, it did not address the suffering of grieving families. In fact, the court’s decision last month introduced further tensions within families with a suffering loved one.

Assisted suicide adds a whole new dimension to the dying process for families and friends of the seriously ill. Choosing whether or not to kill yourself could never be described as simple. Take this example from Washington State: Attorney Margaret Dore recounts the story of a client in the state of Washington where assisted suicide has been legal since 2009. The client found herself caught in a family feud over whether or not her ailing father should take a prescribed lethal dose to kill himself. The adult daughter was distraught and the family divided. Worse still, her father lived his final months caught in the middle, unsure whether he should kill himself or not.

In situations like this, the dying family member can feel like a burden on his loved ones. The sad reality is this: The option of assisted suicide transforms the feeling of being a burden into consideration of a duty to die.

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