Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"What It Means To Be Human"

"And he said, what will happen is that the rod will go into your throat, into your esophagus, and you will die a miserable death."
"This is as much disability as I can handle. Under no circumstances do I ever want to repeat what I had to go through. Under no circumstances. 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'...."
"I remember being in the ditch, unable to move, conscious. The pain was so intense that you just think you're going to explode. You'd wish anything, anything to stop it."
"I was terrified. I can't talk. I can't write anything down. I have no real means of communicating. I'm fully conscious and I'm in enormous pain."
"I told my doctors if anything goes wrong, if my cognitive ability is reduced in any way or my ability to speak or hear or whatever, please walk away from the [operating] table."
"If I'm incapacitated, the direction is to actively end my life, not passively. I'm not interested in starving to death, or being deliquefied, or whatever."
"I'm disabled. I'm as disabled as you can get. But I don't think my life is going to be in any way diminished because, in the hospital down the street, there's less suffering."
Conservative Member of Parliament Steven Fletcher, Ottawa
11/26/2008  ( BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES) - Steven Fletcher meets his rescuers from his accident at a recent book launch for his biography. Fletcher has fought with MPI since the accident in 1996.

There's a reason, the personal experience of loss, trauma, determination and fear of what just may come next, that has compelled Steven Fletcher to introduce two private member's bills to legalize physician-assisted death. He is, as he describes, just about as physically disabled as any human body can become. Not his mind, however. And his mind is all he was left with. His once healthy, muscular body is no more.

But his mind, lodged in an unresponsive body had the strength and fortitude, the interest and the intelligence to insist that he was still somebody. Not only 'somebody', but extraordinarily somebody. Someone who after the dreadful misfortune he suffered would go on to attend university, excel at his academic studies and become politically involved, capable enough to persuade others to vote him into public political office.

112014-Steven_10.jpg-1122_fletcher_canoe-W.jpgCredit: Courtesy Steven Fletcher   Steven Fletcher, in 1989, on a canoe trip to Manitoba's Snowshoe Lake. Fletcher, an avid outdoorsman, loved nothing more than taking to the water in a canoe or kayak. He had a summer job leading canoe trips and was an expert paddler: he taught camp counsellors how to instruct young people in the art of handling a canoe.

When he was 23, the world and its potential stretched dreamily before him. He was an avid outdoorsman, a lover of nature, he taught canoeing techniques to instructors and beginners alike, and was studying to achieve his geological engineering degree. He aspired to get an MBA as well; his career beckoned in mining or energy extraction. He envisioned himself married, the father of rambunctious children who would love the Canadian wilderness as he did.

Nineteen years later, at age 42, he has had years of experience as a federal Parliamentarian, once held a Cabinet post. His early plans turned around completely because he is unable to canoe wilderness lakes any longer, and work in geology or energy extraction is no longer available to him with the constraints that fate placed upon him in 1996 when his vehicle collided with a moose on a highway in Manitoba on a dark winter morning.

MP Steven Fletcher is on a deeply personal quest to legalize doctor-assisted deathConservative MP Steven Fletcher has made it a personal mission to introduce right-to-die legislation in Canada. He was rendered a quadriplegic in an accident that left him in excruciating pain, and says he doesn't want to suffer anything like it again.  Photograph by: Fred Chartrand , CP files

Later, two men stopped to see why a headlight seemed to be shining out of a ditch, and that's when he was discovered, half an hour after the catastrophic collision. Specialists in Winnipeg found two vertebrae crushed in his neck, the most serious of spinal cord injuries. Then his lung collapsed and a mechanical ventilator breathed for him. A "C4" quadriplegic, he was able to move his neck and facial muscles only. A year in hospital left him ample time to think of his future.

On release from hospital a team of personal-care workers and physiotherapists tended to his round-the-clock needs; he was completely dependent, but determined to live in his own home. Living in an impaired-accessible apartment he had to come to terms with the fact that he is unable to feel his body, cannot control his bladder or bowels. Pain is a constant presence in his head and neck. For him, privacy is now an unknown quality.

Two years ago while he was still a cabinet minister the results of a MRI revealed that the titanium rod implanted to support the shattered scaffolding in his neck had been dislodged. At Toronto Western Hospital top spinal neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Fehlings, informed Mr. Fletcher no structural scaffolding was left to hold his head up; the two neck vertebrae had re-fractured. Surgery was urgent. The 12-hour surgery that followed led to the discovery that the displaced titanium rod had penetrated his throat, bacteria colonizing his spinal column

Long back at work in the House of Commons, he is determined now to nurse through legislation the legalization of physician-assisted death. Ending the prohibition on assisted death "Is the moral issue of our time", he insists. "Its importance will reveal itself in the peace of mind that it provides to individuals who are suffering -- and their families. It speaks to what it means to be human."

His mission is not a popular one. It is not shared by all those living with disabilities by any means.

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