Why you should care

Because if you wanted to end your life, whom would you turn to?

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Nino Sekopet, personal support program manager, Dying With Dignity
Toronto

At the end of 2012, one of my clients who’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s told me he was not willing to allow the illness to take its course and wondered if there was something he could do to end his life sooner, while he still had control. He asked me to research what was available for him in Canada, and that’s when I stumbled upon Dying With Dignity and got in touch. They were looking for a personal support program manager. I applied.

I’m a psychotherapist. I meet with private clients roughly three days a week and I spend two days with Dying With Dignity. There are a lot of people who call our office after being diagnosed with cancer; they’re in shock and want to know their options. Many have progressive, debilitating diseases — ALS, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s — and they wonder about their eligibility under Canada’s rules. It’s quite a murky territory to navigate.

We are not a group of people who are seducing people to end their lives.

Before the legislation changed in June [2016] and allowed assisted dying in Canada, a number of callers asked: How do I end my life? I’m in pain, and the health care system has nothing to offer me. I don’t want to wait until my time comes — I want to end my life, and I’ve heard a certain plan is safe. I was able to answer their questions about medications. I cannot be seen as assisting in suicide. As an organization, we have to be very careful navigating that territory. Most of our advice was “please don’t do it,” because people were coming to us with dangerous plans they’d developed.

Now that the legislation has changed, those questions have almost disappeared, and most ask if they meet the criteria. There’s another group interested in going to Switzerland because they feel they may not meet medical eligibility in Canada. Then a good chunk is wondering: How do I approach my story with my doctor in a way that is most likely to be heard and not dangerous for my doctors? How do I do it safely, calmly, in a grounded way, so a doctor is responsive instead of shutting me down?

We probably receive 20 new inquiries per week. Sometimes people come to the office, but we also have chapters where there is much more flexibility about going to people’s homes locally. The head office mostly works through email or phone. There have been a couple of instances when somebody said something very critical about our work to my face or via phone or email. But mostly the interaction is really positive, regardless of where you are on the spectrum or choice around end of life.

I think our agency is grounded and decent in terms of presenting this issue very rationally; we are not a group of people who are seducing people to end their lives. I am sad every time somebody loses their life or ends their life; there is no thrill in it. I see this as an option for people who suffer greatly, and if they, together with their families, conclude that medical aid in dying is the best option for them, I think that we as a society should support them — if certain criteria are met — because that’s not a decision you come to lightly.

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.