Wednesday, May 02, 2018
'Til Death Takes Us Together?
Yesterday I sat in our vehicle waiting for Ruth to emerge from a store and listened to an interview on CBC radio's The Current of three adult children whose parents had arranged their own deaths. These weren't kids speaking, ranging in ages from 54 to 71. Their parents, Shirley and George Brickenden, were married nearly 73 years, having met during WW2, living a long and full and loving life together. But at ages 95 and 94 they both were experiencing serious health challenges which meant constant pain for Shirley and regular trips to the Emergency Room for both of them. They decided that MAID, Medical Assistance in Dying, would be a mercy and they wanted to die together.
The children were supportive despite the prospect of losing the parents they loved. Arranging their deaths together was not straightforward for the Brickendens but they navigated their way through it all with the help of their children. Because we often associate coincident deaths with murder/suicide there was 'splainin' to do, including with the chosen funeral home. Funeral homes are accustomed to preplanning arrangements with couples but not with knowledge of the specific time and day of death for a couple.
In the interview the three children offered that their parents seemed more at peace, lighter, once the decision was made and the hurdles cleared. Despite some reluctance from their son about being present at the time of death he realized that his parents had brought him into this world and it was only right he should be there as they departed this life. Grandchildren came home from around the world to be part of this momentous departure.
The Brickendens were able to die in their seniors' residence with family present. A deacon came from their church to provide Christian solace. Both found meaning in their faith and this support brought them comfort. Shirley was confident that God did not want her to suffer any more.
Shirley and George died peacefully alongside each other and he offered his love to the family as his last words. When the funeral home staff arrived for the bodies they shed tears seeing the couple together in repose.
The Brickendens were private people but they decided that their story and I found it very touching. I continue to have my reservations about MAID but my thinking has shifted over time. I still have concerns about assisted death knowing that many people are vulnerable in our society because of disabilities, and cognitive impairment, and mental illness. The provision of palliative care is inadequate in Canada, as well as mental health support.
Assisted dying is not a panacea for the grim reality of suffering and the inevitability of death, and not much is said about who is watching to ensure that ethical standards are met as people die this way. Not all children are like these three lovely children and if family members in some situations rob their loved ones blind, who's to say that won't encourage death for the feeble and confused? We can't even ensure that MAID will be available to everyone in this vast country.
Still, hearing about the Brickendens was important. We can commend them to the care of a merciful and welcoming God.
What do you think about this? Have your opinions about MAID shifted over time?
Take a few minutes and listen to the interview and then read my Groundling blog for today since you're only a click away.