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What is dying with dignity?

** arti key by Normand Bédard published in La Presse on June 19, 2012, under the title '' C'est ça, la dignité ''.

I have known someone who died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a terrible disease, involving slow physical degeneration to certain death. This evil strikes blindly, like that exceptional athlete Lou Gehrig, or that brilliant man I knew, otherwise endowed with excellent physical shape throughout his life.

How painful it is to watch someone embodying physical and intellectual strength deteriorate over the months. Muscles respond less and less, walking must be accompanied first by a cane, then by a walker, and the day arrives when the wheelchair becomes essential. Later, even the head cannot stand on its own. Physical condition becomes such that help from loved ones in getting into a vehicle or in bed, and in eating and bathing, is essential. The use of speech is lost. Yet besides memory and speech, mental faculties are still there. Communication can take place via a keyboard for a while, but may only be possible by looking.

This friend was blessed with a wife, children, and like-minded friends in the face of death. He was a pastor. “The Lord gave, and the Lord took away; blessed be the name of the Lord! He made the choice to accept his fate with courage. He decided not to take any special measures (respirator, feeding tube) to prolong his life, but he insisted on living fully the last few months he had to live.

He prayed to God to grant him the grace to see his daughter's wedding. Surprisingly, he survived until this marriage approached. The hospital center where he was ending his days agreed to have the wedding take place in his hospital room in the morning. Still but conscious, God granted him to see and hear the ceremony. He passed away in the afternoon.

One thing is certain to me: I saw in this man, despite his physical appearance painful to see, a beautiful and great dignity. That of a human facing death with respect and courage. My friend chose, like Bruno Bonamigo, director at Radio-Canada, to make the most of all the time he had left with his family [1] . And to show them courageous love.

Those who fight for the right to assisted suicide are free to speak their minds, but their reference to dignity bothers me.

And what about the name of the Dying with Dignity Commission created by the government? This name reveals an indisputable bias: "voluntary" death is dignified. Dignity is choosing when to die. Dignity is suicide.

For my part, I see much more dignity in the courageous choice of my friend.

Of course, everyone has their own way of seeing death. But no one can use dignity to justify assisted suicide. This argument is misplaced, and its use implies a certain contempt for those who have chosen to accept the slow approach of natural death. Yes, it is painful to know that you are going downhill under the gaze of others. But dignity is not the refusal of the gaze of others, nor the refusal to be completely dependent on help from loved ones. There is great dignity in accepting suffering and death.

It is one thing to claim the right to assisted suicide, but the reference to human dignity must be made with great caution. Not everyone has the same vision of what it is and what it entails.


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