Iam a medical doctor. For 30 years I have spent much of my time caring for people suffering from dementia –
diagnosing and treating it, following them and supporting
them and their families as they
struggle to come to terms with
this terrible disease.
You can imagine my distress
when I read about Gillian Bennett, the B.C. woman who was
in the early stages of dementia
and chose to take her own life.
Upon her death she had prearranged for a website to
launch that defended her decision and kicked off another
round of discussion about
euthanasia in Canada.
How sad that Gillian Bennett could see no other course
than to take her own life. How
dreadful that she used this
gesture to propose that become a normal thing to do for
people in her situation. And
how disappointing that newspapers across Canada gave the
assisted suicide activists all
that free publicity.
“I am turning into a vegetable,” wrote Bennett in her
online suicide note. I have
seen vegetables in the supermarket, in my kitchen and on
my plate, but have yet to see
one in my clinic or in a hospital or nursing home bed. Who
invented the appalling practice of applying this word to
human beings? We react with
dismay when derogatory
words are applied to people
because of their race, language
Dr. Catherine Ferrier is a Montreal
physician who works in the division
of geriatric medicine at the McGill
University Health Centre and is president of
the Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia.
A version of this article first appeared in
the Montreal Gazette.
The high, high cost of euthanasia
A Canadian doctor shares from the heart about the high cost of
euthanasia on her own patients By Catherine Ferrier
a vision of
want to be
part of – one
in which only
or other characteristics. How
can we accept them being
directed at those suffering
from disease or disability?
On her site Bennett refers to
the cost of caring for her future
“empty husk,” and to the lack of
meaning in any care that would
be given to her, which she calls
“ludicrous and wasteful.” In
other words she is saying, “I
was a brilliant clinical psych-
ologist with a thriving practice.
I am becoming someone who
will receive care instead of giv-
ing it. This is intolerable.”
What an insult to my pa-
tients! It is an insult to all
those living with dementia,
and to their families and the
health care workers who care
for them with professional-
ism, skill and love.
A colleague in the North has
told me of the approach to the
elderly and dying among the
indigenous people of her community. Elders are venerated.
It is considered a privilege to
spend time with them during
their last illness. No one is in
a hurry to get them out of the
way. I see this in my clinic too.
Not always, but often. Come
and meet some of my patients
and their families. The diagnosis they receive is another of
the many challenges they’ve
faced in their lives. Of course
it’s frightening, as would be
advanced cancer or any other
terrible disease – but they face
it with courage and hope.
Not hope for a cure, which
is not yet a reality. They hope
for peace in their twilight
years, with and in spite of their
And many achieve it. I’ve
seen families drawn together
by adversity. I’ve seen adult
children develop relationships
with aged and dementing
parents that they never
dreamed possible. A new ten-
derness in the old authoritar-
ian dad, a mother they can
laugh and sing with when
other communication fails, a
chance to give back at least
some of what parents give us
as children, which we never
appreciate enough. Of course,
this requires putting other in-
terests and aspirations on
hold. But they do it gladly.
Bennett promotes a vision
of society I would never want
to be part of – one in which
only those who work and who
produce have value. A society
that has no room for those who
are vulnerable and need care.
Being dependent does not remove our dignity. It’s not what
we can do that gives us value.
It’s who we are.
It’s said that ours is a throwaway culture. When the toaster
breaks, you don’t get it fixed
anymore. You throw it away and
get a new one. But we’re not
toasters. Are we now going to
start throwing away people? /FT