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Heather’s story of being pressured to “choose” MAiD

by | Jun 27, 2024

I am not you, and you have no right to push me to accept MAiD. I will never accept it! My life has value and no human being has a right to say otherwise.

By Heather Hancock, an author and editor.

Heather Hancock

Editor’s note. This appeared on the blog of Alex Schadenberg and reposted with permission.

I’ve spent every moment from my first breath to the one a second ago fighting for what others take for granted. Why? I have Spastic Cerebral Palsy and have been labelled by doctors, teachers, therapists, lawyers, and society in general, as a second class citizen.

I live in Canada on the vast open prairies of Saskatchewan, but this province has only been my home for the last 5 years. I was born in Calgary, Alberta before there were NICUs and I weighed a whopping 1 pound 6 ounces at twenty-five weeks gestation. I should have died with less than a 2% chance of survival, but I was breathing on my own. There’s no medical explanation for it… but God.

I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy when I was two. The doctors solemnly told my parents to put me into an institution for the rest of my short life as I “would never amount to anything.” The medical community was in agreement that all disabled children were also retarded.

A trip to the University of Alberta put an end to that false assumption. At the age of three, I had the IQ of a five-year old. My disability is purely physical.

I was the first disabled child mainstreamed into the Calgary public school system. It was great for my education, but not for my social life. Fear and ignorance resulted in years of bullying and being ostracized by my peers and a few teachers. I graduated with Honors in 1986. Intermixed with all of this were multiple surgeries and regular physiotherapy appointments.

My adult life has been spent fighting for equity and accessibility in the workplace and the relentless toll that spasticity takes on the physical body. Chronic pain and fatigue became my new companions and I lost the ability to walk independently at thirty-three. The losses continued and by forty-four, I had to medically retire, after a quarter of a century working as a Unit Clerk in hospitals on Vancouver Island. I turned to writing and discovered I could educate others about my life through fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

In 2017, all of the muscles in my legs spasmed simultaneously from the hips down both legs to the tips of my toes, and then the muscles just kept tightening and tightening. I could not move from the waist down. There were subsequent episodes in 2018 and 2019.

In hospital, I discovered a change in the attitudes of nurses, doctors, orderlies, and therapists. There was a subtle undercurrent that was almost tangible. I had nurses neglecting me, forcing me to try and walk while they stood at a distance and watched with arms crossed. It was evident the medical staff preferred not to treat me.

During my second episode of what I termed “spastic paralysis,” there were words given to provide a framework for what quality of life should look like. If a person failed to meet that standard, then pressure was applied to get the person to accept medical assistance in dying (MAiD).

It’s a deceptively comforting term for euthanasia. It’s been legal in Canada since 2016. I was in Victoria General Hospital in 2018 and was approached by a hospitalist who asked me if I had ever considered MAiD, given the incessant level of severe pain and fatigue I lived with.

I made eye contact with the doctor and said, “God gave me life and He is the ONLY One who knows the number of my days. The answer now and from this moment on is NO.”

The third episode in 2019 landed me back in the same hospital on a different unit, but my bed was in the hallway for my entire stay. It was humiliating. Again I was offered MAiD, and that doctor was given the same reply. It was the last straw for me. My GP retired in 2016 three years of lack of care had taken its toll, and I left the Island and moved to rural Saskatchewan about an hour west of the Alberta border.

A month after moving into the new house, I had a very bad fall which landed me back in hospital, only this time it was the regional hospital in Medicine Hat, Alberta. A neurologist diagnosed what was happening and targeted a muscle in my lower back with therapeutic Botox. It took three weeks for full effect and during my stay, the nurses and some doctors were very condescending.

One nurse came to my bedside in the early morning hours before breakfast and asked me “to do the right thing and consider MAiD.” Her next words still ring through my head… “if I were you, I would take it in a heartbeat. You’re not living, you’re existing!

I replied, “I am not you, and you have no right to push me to accept MAiD. I will never accept it! My life has value and no human being has a right to say otherwise.

The nurse stormed off and the next time she answered my call bell, she simply sneered at me instead of helping me get to the bathroom with my walker. I was very unsafe and talked with the head nurse of the unit and had her removed from my care. She wasn’t reprimanded as the head nurse said it was a “personality clash.”

I’ve had three stays in three different hospitals in Saskatchewan, and so far, this province has not pushed MAiD on me or anyone else within range of my sight or hearing. It’s a wonderful relief.

With our federal government trying to manipulate the members of the House of Commons to pass laws that would throw wide open the criteria so more of the sick, terminally ill, disabled, mentally ill, elderly, and other vulnerable minorities could be coerced into accepting MAiD, or be given it against their will. That’s a horrifying prospect.

I am a human being. My life has intrinsic worth. I won’t allow anyone to say otherwise. I wasn’t supposed to amount to anything, but I was a unit clerk, and I am now a published author and an editor. Words are powerful and I intend to wield them until my last breath. My stories educate and entertain. My poetry is raw and brings the reader into my world as a person with a disability.

I fight many battles on different fronts, but the right to life is sacred, and should be treated with dignity and compassion. Sadly, the majority of our society have forgotten how.

Categories: Assisted Suicide