by Laurie Salvador, Salvador Davis & Co. Notaries Public –
During my career as a Notary for the past 31 years, 95% of my clients would ask if they could stipulate, in writing, that they don’t wish to continue to live if they are incapacitated and unable to speak for themselves. Like me, they have no interest in living if they are a burden to family and society. Finally, after years of debate, we have legislation that allows competent adults who are suffering from chronic incurable pain to ask a doctor to assist them to die. This precludes children and those who are not capable of making a decision for themselves. It also precludes us from giving another person permission to terminate our lives if we are not capable at a time when we reach that stage. This is for the public’s protection and I believe it is a good safety measure for those who are vulnerable against family who may be anxious to settle an estate prematurely.
To give you an example of how this works, a client of mine lost his dear wife of 70 years. He had no interest in living once she was gone. He took a bad fall and did not recover from it, nor did he want to try to recover. He begged the doctor to “let him go” and refused to eat. After two weeks of the patient reaffirming his desire to be with his wife, the doctor finally gave him an injection that helped him pass peacefully into the arms of his beloved. To me, this is how it should be.
It’s important to understand that this ability to assist in a planned death is restricted to doctors, and therefore it is still illegal for any other person to assist with a death. Suicide is not illegal, but there is still a social stigma attached to it. Suicide inevitably causes emotional scarring to those left behind, and sometimes it fails. Shouldn’t a person who wishes to die have the right to review options with a trained doctor and then make an informed decision as to when that should occur?
Under current legislation, we cannot instruct another person (in most cases referred to as our health care representative) to ask a doctor to end our life if we are not capable of doing so at the time. My health care directive states that if I am not capable of making a decision and I have no reasonable chance of recovering to the point of being able to enjoy my life (such as cooking for my loved ones, creating art or appreciating a fine wine) then I would prefer to take the first exit and I would want my representative to decline any surgeries, tubes, ventilators – basically anything that would prolong my life.
The challenge is to choose someone to be your representative that will honour those wishes. And who knows – perhaps some day in the future the legislation will open up the possibility of making the decision for assisted death in advance. My best advice is to have this discussion with your loved ones. Write down what your wishes are in the event of incapacity in an Advance Directive or a Health Care Directive and review it every few years. Give a copy to your general physician. That is your best hope for making your wishes known and hopefully respected.