Lasha Morningstar

WE ARE ONE

May 2, 2016

When my health is in question I go to a doctor. Logical, right? Granted, I do put the appointment off until I have to go.

But recently I started to try to be mindful of the gift of health, take care of my being so the medical visits have become once-a-year checkups. As well, every time I go to the grocery store, I buy a basket of berries.

My Ontario childhood imbued love of these delicious sun-kissed morsels into my very being. Just writing those words makes me salivate.

Blueberries. Raspberries. Strawberries. Antioxidants. I also do the once-a-week liver dinner. Red blood cells rejoice. Life in our war-free country, even during its day-to-day inevitable roller coaster, is delightful.

Oops! I spoke too soon. Physician-assisted suicide legislation is on the horizon.

The anguish of it all makes me shudder. While doing everything I can to prolong life, laws are being put in place to say others, in certain circumstances, can decide whether I live or die.

Proponents of the law, especially those suffering intractable pain, would probably tell me, I have no idea what life is like for them.

That is true.

PALLIATIVE CARE

I do know though that palliative care has finally come into the research spotlight. This is when medication is tailored to the patient's needs. That is the science of it. This is evolving to include art forms such as music, painting, journaling and spiritual support.

I remember one physician at the Cross Cancer Institute years ago focusing on palliative care. He cared so much about this avenue of medicine that he learned French and moved to Quebec to focus even more on palliative care.

My worries about physician-assisted suicide come from years spent listening to CBC overnight broadcasts when they would repeat broadcasts from Europe and Africa. Often, the radio would be so interesting, I would forget all about sleep.

But it was the stories from the Netherlands that jarred me. Many focused on physician-assisted death. One of the most moving broadcasts came when they interviewed a doctor who believed in life, not death. He described his anguish as he watched other physicians assist in their patients' death instead of exploring palliative care.

Belgium too wrenches the heart with its legislation that has no age limit for minors who wish to end their life. Granted, there are restrictions. They must be terminally ill and "beyond medical help." One cannot help but wonder just how much effort goes to explore palliative care for these ailing youngsters.

Then there is always the anxiety of wondering whether hidden agendas are at work. Active treatment beds come at a high price. There is a dearth of continuing care and assisted living facilities.

REMEMBER THE FAMILY

What about the family? Are they weary of caring for their ailing relative? Do they regard them as a burden instead of knowing it is an honour to care for their kin at this vulnerable time of their life?

Also, there is the ugly motive of being beneficiaries in their will and following the temptation to push the ailing soul to death's door faster than God intended. I remember a dear friend who waged war with cancer for years. She armed herself with knowledge and was surrounded by a cadre of dedicated friends.

Her worry was about the disease's impact on her quality of life.

However, what keeps me going in my most desperate moments is the realization a miracle might happen in the next five minutes. It is easy to dismiss this as a throwaway pop psychology phrase.

OPEN TO GOD'S PLAN

It's not. It means I keep myself open to God's plan, to live my life according to his will - not mine.

That, plus praying and the fine art of listening - I am still working on that - is my life game plan. I am going to write my MP, my MLA, both federal and provincial health ministers and express my concerns about physician-assisted suicide.

Like my colleague Mark Pickup, I am also writing my doctor to let him know I want to fight for life to my last breath.

It was God's gift to me. I also know no matter how invisible my impact on the world, I am a thread in life's tapestry. If we all tear our threads, society itself will begin to unravel.

I watched another gentle colleague die. He moved into palliative care and his last brave words to me were, "I thought I would just go into chronic palliative care."

(Lasha Morningstar lasha@wcr.ab.ca)