Up Close and Personal

Posted: 29 November 2013 in Assisted Dying, Assisted Suicide, Catholicism, Elizabeth

This post was original published on 15 January 2011

Today I’m going to get right up close and personal, and say some things that I’ve wanted to say for several years. After I had come back from Switzerland, where my wife Elizabeth was helped to die, and her ashes had been buried amidst a wonderful celebration of her life, the news media and the so-called “pro-life” movement got wind of what she had done. At the behest of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (an arm of the Roman Catholic death culture), I was investigated by the RCMP Major Crimes Unsit, and then the most rabid of the “pro-life” commentators got to work to dissect what they thought it all meant. And of course, they saw devils everywhere.

One of these commentators was Wesley J. Smith, described by Wikepedia as a “Senior Fellow in Human Rights and Bioethics at the Discovery Institute”. His report, still available on his blog “Second-hand Smoke”, as I discovered recently (the blog in the meantime having been moved to the conservative Catholic journal First Things), was published two days after we had buried Elizabeth’s ashes, and had remembered her big heart, her courage and her joy in life, dismisses Elizabeth as a “Suicide Tourist.” In truth, she was an exile, not a tourist, exiled to die in a foreign land, because of religious fanatics just like Smith, whose stock in trade is fear-mongering and lies.

We’ll come to the lies in a moment, but it is worthwhile mentioning that, had Elizabeth known, from the start, that, at the end, when life had become unbearable to her, she would have been able to receive assistance in dying, she might have lived much longer. She would not have had to worry about how it would end, whether she would have the courage to take her own life, furtively, all alone, whether it would work, whether she would involve anyone else in an act which she had had in mind from very early on in the course of her illness. She had known others with very severe primary progressive MS, so she knew, almost from the start, what was in store for her. Who knows how much the stress of knowing that she would eventually be completely paralysed and unable to speak, and knowing that she was not entirely free to choose, contributed to the severity of her MS? And then, of course, being forced to flee, as she saw it, into exile in order to die, she had to leave when she was still able to travel, and so she died before she would have done had she been free to die in her own home, in her own country.

The Roman Catholic death cult simply doesn’t understand. Here’s an example. Margaret Somerville is a bioethicist (at least she pretends to be) at McGill University in Montreal, and a stern opponent of assisted dying. A phone-in CBC radio programme shortly after Elizabeth died took as a topic whether the refusal to allow assisted dying forced people to die earlier than they would if assisted dying were legalised. The conversation wandered aimlessly for awhile until someone phoned in and said, “Aren’t you missing the point? Mrs. MacDonald died earlier than she would have, if she had been able to do here what she could do legally in Switzerland.” Margaret Somerville’s response was immediate and uncomprehending. “Well,” she said, “if she wanted to die, I don’t know why she would wait!” This is the problem when we allow people to make choices for others, especially religious fanatics like Somerville. They simply do not understand. Why should someone whose understanding of what people seeking assisted dying really want is limited to a few catch phrases and predigested dogmas, get to make decisions for such people?

Like Wesley Smith. He also knew better than Elizabeth — or so, at least, he thought – and felt qualified to comment on her choice.Amazing! He didn’t know her at all! He didn’t even know she existed until shortly before he wrote his lying words about her on his blog. Here are a few of them:

A Canadian woman with MS travelled to Switzerland with her husband for assisted suicide. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has demanded a legal investigation. I doubt that will happen, but I post this story because I want y’all to look at the way in which the reporter romanticized family support for the suicide (don’t any family members oppose their loved ones’ suicides any more?), but most particularly, for us all to ponder the attitudes expressed in the comments section.

Elizabeth McDonald [misspelled], age 38, was not terminally ill. She was disabled and depressed. (Depression is caused by MS in some cases.)

This is a picture of Elizabeth taken two weeks before she died — does she look depressed to you?

This is a picture of Elizabeth taken two weeks before she died — does she look depressed to you?

Actually, I was investigated by the RCMP Major Crimes Unit, despite Smith’s scepticism. But the lie comes in the second paragraph. Recall that Smith had never met Elizabeth, and did not even know of her existence until shortly before he wrote. Yet he feels justified in saying: “She was disabled and depressed. (Depression is caused by MS in some cases.)” That’s true, depression is caused by MS in some cases. But it is not true that Elizabeth was depressed. Early on, in the first few years of her MS, she was depressed, and took what she called “happy pills” for a few months, but the depression soon left, and she lived fully and exuberantly after that, managing her printing and design business, busy about the parish, travelling on holiday (three times to Bermuda, twice driving across Canada from sea to sea, once to Alabama), and building a retirement home as well — all this, in the 8 years, 9 months and 2 days that she suffered from MS. She had moments of sorrow for what she was losing, but she was never depressed again. That’s simply a lie. I’ve always wanted to say publicly that Smith told a lie — it looks so much more convincing, doesn’t it?, with the lie – and now I have done so. However, that’s the assumption that these people make, that no one, in their right mind, can make a reasonable choice to die. That too is false.

[It is worth pointing out that Wesley Smith’s blog has been transferred to the website of the conservative Roman Catholic journal First Things. If you search June 2007, I believe his misrepresentations of Elizabeth are still accessible. He has recently changed his blog name from Secondhand Smoke to First Thoughts, though one ought not expect genuine thinking from such a man!]

Of course, being a “Senior Fellow” at the Discovery Institute — it’s wonderful how these marginal religious organisations dress themselves up in fake academic robes! – perhaps we can’t expect much better, since the “Institute” itself spends its time finding more and more creative ways to tell lies. Notice how Smith pretends to knowledge, by putting the little note, “Depression is caused by MS in some cases,” in parenthesis. But that doesn’t prove that Elizabeth was depressed. Besides, the strange thing is that people speak about depression as a pathology. Is it always a pathology? Perhaps, when you are on the verge of losing all control over all of your bodily functions, including speech, there’s reason to be depressed. In any event, Elizabeth was not depressed. She died, as she had lived, full of joy, and she spoke of her death as a liberation. She planned it, as she planned everything, down to the last detail. She died, sheltered in my arms, just as she wished to do.

As for opposing my loved one’s suicide — and her loss to me is incalculable, just as our love for each other was immeasurable too — what would Smith have had me do? I suggested to her, earnestly, that she should wait a little longer, but she did not dare. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I have to go.” The prospect of being trapped by the death-cult crowd was far more threatening than the certainty that she would die. The death cult of the Vatican and fundamentalist Christianity was far more of a menace to Elizabeth than knowledge that she was soon to die, and until she was beyond the boundaries of Canada she could not feel secure. She felt that those dead hands could still get a grip on her, and force her to die in a way of their own choosing, not hers.

But those dead hands did get a grip on her after she died, and sullied her name — and that I find hard to forgive. Elizabeth was an incredibly controlled person. Always much older and wiser than her years, she knew exactly what she wanted, always. Her life was lived as though from a script. The script offered plenty of opportunity for celebration and joy, but none for unconsidered action. She chose carefully, and she lived deliberately. I sometimes wish that I could do the same, for she knew a secret that many people do not know, how to grasp the moment and to live within it fully. In the end, when the prospect of having that kind of control over her life threatened to slip from her grasp, she made a choice to die as she had lived, deliberately. And the death-cult of Christianity now wants to snatch that away from her, to suggest, as a doctor representing the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition said on television shortly after Elizabeth died, that she had been unceremoniously “bundled onto an aeroplane.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Elizabeth did die as she had chosen, in a way that was consistent with the rest of her life. The religious have no claim to her, and they should not be permitted to rule over all the dying as they still presume to do

  1. Paxton Marshall says:

    “But those dead hands did get a grip on her after she died, and sullied her name — and that I find hard to forgive.”

    Yes, it’s so reprehensible that someone should seize upon the misfortune of another human to peddle their toxic theology. This is akin to Pat Robertson blaming the destruction of hurricane Katrina on homosexuality. Why should these people be given any respect?

  2. Kalyani Kurup says:

    I was surprised to see ‘Choice in Dying’ once again in the inbox after a long gap. I will never cease being fascinated with your incredible story, your strong convictions, and your beautiful writing style.

  3. Dan McPeek says:

    @ #2 Kalyani Kurup

    So true. You have expressed my feelings exactly. Fascination is the appropriate word.

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