Let's talk about death 

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It was mid-afternoon on a blustery early spring day at our Vancouver Island farm several years ago when my mom inched her papery fingers along the feather-light bed covers to find my hand.

A slight squeeze had me look up from the book I was reading to her. "Now would be a good time," she said in a voice heavy with weariness and pain.

I knew what she was asking after the months of chemo and radiation she had suffered through.

I heard her, squeezed her icy hand and continued to read.

Many across Canada are in this position right now with their loved ones enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering. Some are waiting for right-to-die provisions to come into force next month following the striking down of the prohibition of doctor-assisted death by the Supreme Court of Canada in February 2015.

The court suspended last February's decision for one year to allow the federal and provincial legislatures to consult on the issue and come up with a plan.

After all shouldn't the dignity and the request of a clearly consenting adult be listened to when it comes to choosing a time of death?

Opinion poll after opinion poll across Canada show that the majority of those canvassed support this position.

But this is an emotional and explosive issue, and it is one the provinces and the federal government need to get right when it comes to legislating it.

Surely then the Supreme Court of Canada should take very seriously the request by the Liberal government this week for a six-month extension on coming up with a new law recognizing the right to die following the earlier Supreme Court decision (the court has reserved judgment).

The provinces, led by Ontario, have had a committee in place looking at the issue. The new federal government now also has a committee in place due to offer some findings on Feb.26.

Allowing the delay to gather more information may be prudent but there is no question that the time has come to deal with this issue once and for all. It can be done and it must be. Government can frame a law that includes safeguards to prevent abuse, and to ensure that euthanasia is restricted to all but the most extreme cases.

Then the decision falls to physician and patient — with a clear understanding that no doctor has to participate if they are not comfortable doing so (according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal 63 per cent of Canadian physicians say they would refuse to provide medical aid in dying).

Canada is not inventing the wheel here — several jurisdictions and countries have functioning right-to-die legislation. Second opinions are needed, a mandatory waiting period is in place in some jurisdictions — there are many creative ways to help deal with death in a dignified manner.

What we don't want is for assisted suicide to become an option to save the healthcare system money, or as a way of stepping away from our responsibility as human beings to look after those in our family, or even in our community.

I've seen B.C.'s palliative care system up close and have nothing but the greatest respect for a system that allowed us to keep a loved one at home until the end, a system that saw the nurse and doctor, who came almost daily to our home, come to the whiskey and tea wake.

My mom lived for weeks after that first request — there were good days and bad, and I cherish every one of them for the stories shared, the hand holding, for the chance I was given to give back.

"I'm glad you kept reading," she said near the end.

In many cases, according to reports, people choose death because they feel they cannot choose life as they have no one to help them in their final days — they are a burden.

That is not what Canada's right-to-die legislation should be about.

This is not an easy topic to discuss personally, or as a nation, but it is conversation that is long, long overdue and one that takes courage to face.

I believe we have that courage now.


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