Everyday Theology: ‘Just shoot me’ is not a plan

"...the debate has had little effect in motivating those who are healthy to prepare for their own eventual death."

The legalization of physician-assisted suicide is before the Supreme Court of Canada. According to a 2014 survey, 84% of Canadians agree “a doctor should be able to help someone end their life if the person is a competent adult who is terminally ill, suffering unbearably and repeatedly asks for assistance to die.”

While the push to legalize physician-assisted suicide has Canadians passionately debating the right to die and what it means to die with dignity, the debate has had little effect in motivating those who are healthy to prepare for their own eventual death.

Research indicates that most people are fearful of suffering during the dying process. I think we communicate this fear subconsciously through actions that let us believe we can cheat death. These actions are not necessarily bad, and may even motivate us to continue living life to our fullest, but they do nothing to ease the way into death or make our dying easier for those we love.

One way we may communicate our fear of dying is to pretend that we are not getting older, obsessing over aging, or jealously guarding our independence, symbolized in our reluctance to surrender our driver’s license, or downsizing.

We avoid taking practical steps to make our death and dying easier for others. Only 56% of adult Canadians have a signed will, and less than 29% have appointed a power of attorney; fewer have designated a substitute decision-maker for health matters.  We are highly unlikely to preplan our funeral, even though 75% of us believe doing so would make things easier for our family.

Even our spiritual preparation for death can be limited to our last days when our families seek out the appropriate individual to administer the rites of the dying according to our traditions.

We think we have lots of time to prepare ourselves to meet our maker and to get our affairs in order, even though death is the one thing in life of which we can be certain.

The Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, partly in response to the public discussion about euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, has a suggestion that can help us prepare for death and dying.  It recommends that we start talking about end-of-life issues with our family, friends and health-care providers, and suggests that individuals create an Advanced Care Plan (ACP) that will provide direction for our care when the time comes. An ACP is comprehensive plan that can help us live life until its natural conclusion; it is not a sign up sheet for assisted suicide.

While the public discourse has Canadians talking about the death and dying of a small minority, most of us skirt around the topic of our own mortality.  I know that I do. The conversations I have with others about death are largely superficial. We talk about avoiding suffering, and want to die in our sleep after a long, healthy and happy life. And, should we become decrepit or senile, we joke about telling our kids to “just shoot me”, which really is not much of a plan when it comes to preparing for death and dying.

Trail, BC resident Louise McEwan is a freelance religion writer with degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. Her blog is www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com. Contact her at mcewan.lou@gmail.com .

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