It was a spectacular Okanagan summer day. Perfect for an afternoon barbecue. Family had flown in from all over to join us. From places as far away as Australia.
All came without hesitation to my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. Of course, I just call him ‘Dad.’
For the better part of the morning everyone was happily preparing for the big event. Everyone that is, except Dad. He was downstairs resting. Dad needed the rest before his birthday lunch because earlier that morning, the palliative care nurse had come by (right on time) for her regular morning visit. One of two visits Dad gets each day.
You see just a short time ago, it was decided that, at this point in Dad’s life, the hospital wasn’t a good place for him. He was well cared for, however, the hospital was noisy and he likes being home with Mom. Because we all live together, the decision to bring Dad home was a blessing for us as well. Better than we could have ever imagined. There are countless giggles, hugs and photo ops at our house these days with everyone stopping by. Lots of belly laughs and tears. Times we can’t hear our own voices over everyone else’s at the dinner table and times we all just rest and sit quietly, watching Dad sleep. All these moments together are forming a treasured mix of memories for us and Dad. But, we are the lucky ones I guess.
We are fortunate to live in a community of Canada where palliative care choices are available to our family. In fact, it is only a small minority of Canadians who can do what we have been able to do these past few weeks. So what happens to everyone else? What do they do when their loved ones are near the end of their life and find themselves in a noisy overcrowded hospital without hospice beds available?
What happens to the homeless people who get seriously ill and are taken to hospital? What happens in remote First Nations communities of Canada where the closest palliative care services are thousands of miles away? In the absence of a real palliative care choice, will they be denied the opportunity to share the most precious of moments of their life with those they love?
What happens when someone who is drug addicted or living a high-risk lifestyle finds themselves in hospital? Will palliative care be available to them or will the pressure be on health care providers to warehouse them at already under-funded, over-crowded hospitals?
Will they be piled on top of others who, all together, begin to look more like a burden on the health care system instead of the true blessing they really are as individuals? Or, most disheartening of all to consider, will they be offered a fast tracked doctor-assisted death instead of life at these, their most valuable and vulnerable moments of life? Will they miss their opportunity to be honoured on their special day? Perhaps not with a party like Dad’s, but with at least the very same portion of love.
I know that vulnerable people at end of life are only a part of the euthanasia conversation, however, I truly wish we could undo what we have done here in Canada by making assisted death legal. I wish we could have thought more carefully about these people before we cried out for our own right to die. The circumstances of my Dad’s life right now are not unique. We will all be there one day.
Will we be given the choice of a party in our honour?
Or a syringe?