The Rush Toward Death
by Andrew Eckstein
I recently retired from my career at RBC and decided to answer the invitation of a friend to work at a local funeral home in a casual, part-time capacity. It is a startling and sobering transition to be part of death and people's grief in this way. There is great sadness when a loved one passes on but I consider it an honour to be part of offering comfort to families and loved ones of the deceased.
Death often catches us by surprise but even when we see it coming it can be a hard pill to swallow. The notion that one would want to hasten this process seems counter intuitive and yet we live in a country where euthanasia is now legal. When you think about euthanasia or "assisted dying" as the industry likes to call it, it seems like an idea that is separate from you...something that people "out there" are doing but you don't expect to come in contact with it. It's my view that legalized euthanasia is a dangerous road for our country to walk down and that palliative care is a much better response to the pain and illness some endure. Suffering, after all, is a process that inspires love and compassion in others to care for the one suffering, and draws a community together. So when I started working at this funeral home I wasn't really expecting to deal with euthanasia.
Some days we pick up the deceased from the coroner's office where we are usually told the circumstance surrounding the person's death. On one such day, seeing that the deceased was a young man of 34 I asked my co-worker how they had died and he said it was suicide. I couldn't help but comment, “Wow, it is so sad to end your life that way” and asked how they had gone about it. Did he fall off a bridge? Jump in front of a car? Overdose? His response was, “no Andrew, it was not that type of suicide....it was assisted suicide."
And that was when euthanasia hit me square in the face. I was stunned.
Naturally, we launched into a discussion about euthanasia and my co-worker shared that when he picked up the body it was the coroner in Toronto who confirmed the cause of death as assisted suicide. The coroner further shared, that there have been as many as 15 cases of euthanasia performed in one day in Toronto. This was also shocking news to me. I knew that euthanasia was being performed but I hadn't expected it to occur in such quantities or so close to home. People seem to be rushing toward death. What has happened in our culture that people embrace death rather than seeking compassionate care?
This was real and it was happening very close to home. It's hard to know what to think in a moment like that. This death was chosen unlike most other deaths. I assumed the grief would be similar to most funerals we facilitate but somehow this situation felt much different than anything I had previously experienced. I tried to understand the circumstances of this young man, did he have an unbearable illness or diagnosis? Still the intentional, premature death of someone baffled me. What could really justify taking a life through euthanasia? I still felt in my head and heart that regardless of the individual situation, life should only end by natural causes. The reality of the impact our Government has when they make decisions to legalize and facilitate a quick death rather than promoting palliative care and compassionate support struck me. It's hard to understand the why. Why do people want to die? Why would the government and euthanasia advocacy groups want to hasten death? I don't have all the answers but I know that as a community we must continue to reach out in love and meet people in their circumstances. We must take action wherever possible to speak out and say death is not freedom.
I share this story because I think it is so important that we all understand how real the issue of euthanasia is. It IS happening and it’s right in our backyard. Just like abortion is happening in our communities; euthanasia is now happening in our communities. We can't ignore it. These are our neighbours. Let us all seek ways to demonstrate compassion, let us show those who would seek euthanasia to end their lives that they are valuable, they are loved and regardless of their abilities or dependency they have purpose.