George and Shirley Brickenden, the couple who met seven decades ago and became a perfect example of soul mates, decided to die together with medical assistance.
They had been married for 73 years.
The Brickendens are one of the few couples in Canada to receive a doctor-assisted death together, and the first to speak about it publicly.
They wanted to explain what it meant to them to die at a time and place of their choosing, as at least 2,149 Canadians and likely hundreds more have done since assisted dying became legal in this country.
“We witnessed, many years ago, someone we loved very much, a family member, who lived for several years and turned from being a magnificent human being into somebody you couldn’t recognize, that lay in bed and made noises,” Mrs. Brickenden said in an interview to Globe and Mail.
“We thought then, ‘Well, I don’t care what happens when we get to zero. When we know it’s the end, we’re not going to do that.”
Mrs. Brickenden’s body was wracked by rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory condition that turned her hands into swollen purple claws.
Her heart was failing. She nearly died during an operation after she suffered a heart attack in 2016.
Her husband also had underlying heart disease and recently had severe infections.
Grandchildren and other relatives came home from as far away as Vietnam, Norway, Switzerland and Scotland to say goodbye.
They were happy in company of their children. On the last night they bid farewell to more than 20 members of their immediate family at a bon voyage dinner at their daughter’s apartment.
“It couldn’t have been a better way to go. Totally peaceful”. “It allowed them to bow out gracefully together, as they lived.” Said a family member.
On March 27, George and Shirley died holding hands in their own bed in a Toronto retirement home.
Their children, who watched from the foot of the bed, say the couple drew their last breaths at almost the same moment.
But cases like theirs also raise uncomfortable questions about whether the vague eligibility criteria in Canada’s assisted-dying law are sometimes being interpreted more broadly than the government intended.
Trudo Lemmens, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Toronto, said that he is generally concerned about the fragility associated with old age becoming a reason for people to legally end their lives with the help of a doctor.
“From a societal perspective, this would be problematic”. Ethically, it still needs a much wider dabate.
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