The debate over assisted death

Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, who has served the riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia in Manitoba since 2004

Dear Editor,

Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, who has served the riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia in Manitoba since 2004, is the first quadriplegic to serve in the House of Commons. He was Minister of State for Democratic Reform in 2008 and in 2011, the Minister of State for Transportation. After his exclusion from cabinet in 2013, he tweeted: “I am Conservative. I am a traditionalist. I wish I had left Cabinet in the traditional way— with a sex scandal.”

Though his sense of humor has kept him going, it is with all seriousness that he has introduced two bills in parliament to legalize and monitor physician-assisted death.

Much of the motivation comes from the memory of the pain he suffered after a near-fatal car accident in January 1996. Each successive day in hospital, he said, “expanded the dimensions of” his “pain, trauma and grief”, a recent news article reported.

He was intubated, i.e. a pipe was put down his throat and windpipe. He often felt like he was drowning but could only click his tongue during moments of panic.

“I was terrified,” he said. He couldn’t speak or write down anything. He had no real means of communication, was fully conscious and in enormous pain.

“I’ve gone through that once. And if I had known ahead of time what was going to be in front of me for the next half a dozen years, I would have said, ‘Just no thank you. It’s just not worth it.’”

Fletcher says he can’t feel his body below his neck and sometimes wonders if it’s there at all. He can’t control his bladder or bowel. His head and neck are always in some measure of pain. “There is little privacy and daily indignity.”

On what grounds would the state deny assisted death to Mr. Fletcher, who clearly is competent to make  his own decisions, unless politicians want to preserve their social conservative electoral base or assume their values of life and death trumps all other considerations?

George Jason