MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) became law in Canada in June, 2016 with a variety of responses. It has been welcomed, ignored, misunderstood, controversial, deemed to be anathema.

Five years ago, the request by a friend to sign as a witness on her MAiD document, made me pause and reflect, once again, on life, on death, on compassion, on personal decision-making about one’s own body and more.

I found myself going back decades ago and a conversation with my mother who wanted to have ‘the conversation’ with me. Having serious health issues, she wanted me to know her thoughts on dying and her wishes. We had ‘the conversation’ many times over the years.

The day in her doctor’s office when he told us that Mom’s kidneys had failed and she would have to go on dialysis immediately, she made it very clear that she would not do dialysis. The earlier conversations were brought into reality.

Mom had often expressed a hope that the Canadian government would let people who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, make the decision as to the timing of when they would die for themselves in consultation with their doctor. Mom didn’t get her wish. MAiD was not legal at that time.

Before my husband Hans and I married, we talked about our “final wishes” and MAiD emerged in conversations. Hans was born in the Netherlands where they had their own equivalent to MAiD. He had researched it, was a supporter, and when his first cancer diagnosis was pronounced, we revisited our early discussions. With his second cancer diagnosis, he wanted to formalize things with his doctor and let him to know that if the prognosis were terminal with extreme pain and incapacitation, he wanted to be a candidate when the law was passed in Canada.

With his third cancer (terminal esophageal) a few years later, he knew that the extreme pain he dealt with each moment, would get worse as the cancer continued to spread. There was no quality of life for him at that time. He couldn’t swallow; he couldn’t speak above a whisper; he was exhausted and the pain was not being managed. The time had come. He reminded me that his wishes remained strong and steadfast and that if he couldn’t be granted his request in Canada, he wanted to go to the Netherlands where his request would be granted.

He reminded me of our experience with Shandy, our rescue-dog and beloved King Charles spaniel who had been in pain for too long. While the medications helped her somewhat, pain was her daily, ever-increasing experience. The morning we put her favourite cookie in her mouth and she didn’t know what to do with it, we were at a complete loss. The vet diagnosed it as ‘canine dementia,’ and told us that her kidneys had now failed. He could offer no further remedial help.

Shandy had no quality of life. She wasn’t eating. She was in emotional distress and constant physical pain. She was deaf and partially blind. The vet asked what we wanted to do. We asked ourselves “Could we love her enough to let her go?”

It was Friday. An appointment was set for the procedure to happen the next morning. “Monday.” I said. “How about we have her with us over the weekend and have the procedure done on Monday?” My wise husband let me talk and cry it out. He had had dogs all of his life and had walked this road with them in the past. Shandy was my first such experience. Hans and I talked and listened to one another in the silence as we held Shandy close to us. And then I heard myself say “Let love speak.”

By rescuing her from a terrible situation so very long ago, she had been given love and a life of freedom from the pain she had endured from a cruel owner. That was then.

Could we give her love and a life of freedom from pain now – even if that meant we would no longer have her with us?

As difficult as it was, we knew that it was our time to give Shandy the gift of unconditional love and let “love speak.”

I will never forget Shandy’s eyes as she sat on my lap on the drive to the veterinarian’s office the next morning. Usually, on the road and at the vet’s, Shandy was agitated. Not that time. This time, she was quiet. She was at peace.

Love spoke. Under the gentle hands of the vet, Shandy gently left us.

Supporting Hans’ decision for MAiD was personally difficult. But in remembering our experience with Shandy, I knew I had to “let love speak” and support my husband’s decision.

When I sit in a doctor’s office and am asked to sign MAiD papers for friends with whom I have spent a lot of time listening to and talking about ‘possibilities’, I remember my mother. I remember Shandy. I remember Hans. And each time, as I sign the papers, I know that the motivation is clear … “Let love speak.”

While I pray that each person whose MAiD paper I sign will leave planet earth gently, in their sleep, I am aware that death may not happen that way.

If that doesn’t happen, and they choose to invoke MAiD, I will ‘let love speak’ and support them in any way I can.

And, should such a time come when I make such a decision for myself, I pray that others will ‘let love speak’ and support me in my decision. May love speak.

An aside – this reflection is not intended to cause debate, argument, distress or controversy about the MAiD program in general or in particular. It is a personal reflection only.

© June Maffin
This is a photo of Shandy, beloved canine companion who died October 10, 2009 and who will not be forgotten. Rest in peace, Shandy. Rest in peace. And give Hans a gentle cuddle from me.