Here’s what I’ve learned as a Christian doctor receiving requests for physician-assisted dying.
When the hospital staff called me to my patient’s bedside, I could see her distress was severe. She was agitated and breathless, her face etched with discomfort and frustration. “I can’t take this anymore,” she cried.
She had suffered for years with chronic illness and had been admitted to my intensive care unit with acute complications. She was debilitated and exhausted, and her grief and frustration had come to a head. “I just want to die,” she wept.
Her friend was standing next to me at the bedside, and he was clearly upset by her distress. “Just ask for MAID,” he told her, using the popular acronym for medical assistance in dying, often referred to as physician-assisted death. “Then you can end it all now.”
I was startled by his statement. Though physician-assisted death is available in Canada, where I live, I had not expected the conversation to move in that direction. Yet I saw that he was feeling desperate and helpless at the sight of her distress.
After some gentle exploration, we quickly realized that the patient didn’t really want to die; rather, she needed relief from her pain and anxiety and to understand her acute illness and what it meant for her future. She still wanted time with her loved ones. We worked to address her symptoms and concerns, and she soon felt calmer and more comfortable. Watching her rest and converse with family made it hard to believe she was the same person who only hours earlier had cried out to have her life ended.
What is more unbelievable is that the ability to have one’s life ended on short notice is an increasingly acceptable option for Canadian patients—with implications that will reverberate around the globe. …