LES SILLARS: Welcome to Doubletake. I’m Les Sillars. We’re working hard on Season 2. In the meantime, here’s the first in a series of occasional episodes we’re calling "Singletakes."
They’re shorter stories told by just one person. Mostly you’ll hear the person telling the story or my questions, and sometimes I’ll jump in to provide some context.
Music: Lonely Solitude
This one is about someone who had two days to stop her mother from doing something terrible.
ROBERTA: Um, she's sounding more depressed. She's telling me frequently that she would like to die.
Roberta Bayer teaches political philosophy at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia. And, like me, she’s a Canadian. By the fall of 2022 Roberta’s mother Joanne had been in a nursing home in southern Ontario for several years.
ROBERTA: She wished the Lord would take her, which is the way she put it.
Because of the pain?
ROBERTA: Because there's, because there's just, there's nothing to do. She's lonely.
COVID had been hard on Joanne. Canada’s lockdowns had been pretty severe, and her husband had passed away three years earlier. She was in a wheelchair with long term back pain and her medications weren’t working well. Her family only rarely got into the nursing home to see her, although they did hire a helper to provide extra care inside the nursing home.
ROBERTA: I think that there was this real sense of being abandoned. I mean, I couldn't do more. But I wish, I'm sure she was feeling abandoned by her family.
Roberta did get up to see Joanne right after the lockdowns eased in 2020. Roberta had a two-week quarantine after arriving in Canada.
ROBERTA: Uh, one of her closest friends came up to me who was also, had very bad back pain and was in a wheelchair and she grasped my hand and she said, Roberta, Roberta, I want to tell you that I'm going to die this weekend. … you know, I've chosen to do this, because I just can't take this anymore. And my family are okay with this. She said, so, you know, will you pray for me? And I said, Well, yes. I mean, of course.
Music: Ever Changing
And she then she said, ‘Don't tell your mother.’ And I thought, You're not kidding. I'm not telling my mother. I'm not gonna tell my mother.
Voluntary euthanasia has been legal in Canada since 2016. Critics say Canada’s program is the most aggressive in the world, and it’s going to get worse. In Season 1 of Doubletake we told the story of doctor-assisted suicide in Canada from a doctor’s perspective. Today, euthanasia as seen by the daughter of an elderly patient.
ROBERTA: But of course, it's a small place, the retirement home. And very soon my mother knows without me telling her, and of course, this thought that her friend had done this. And she was sufficiently unaware of what was going on that when other friends began to die, rather quickly, she thought they had done it, too. Now, it turned out that she was wrong about some of these cases when we actually inquired, but she had, was convincing herself over this time that this is something that everyone was doing in a retirement home.
So over the course of several months, then, she's got maybe, what, several of her friends pass away.
And she thinks that they have all sought out and received euthanasia.
And is she talking with you about this?
ROBERTA: Well, she mentions it from time to time, and I say, ‘No, Mom, don't.’ So I'm talking, trying to talk her out of it. So she knows I don't approve.
Does she want to do it?
ROBERTA: She's sounding that way. But I'm trying to convince her out of it, making phone calls sometimes a little tense.
Can you recall any phone call in particular that was especially tense?
ROBERTA: I just said, ‘Well, you know, it's, but Mom, suicide is wrong. We know from the Bible that this is wrong.’ And then she would say, ‘But the Lord doesn't want to see me suffer.’
So what’d you say?
ROBERTA: I say, ‘Well, Christ suffered.’ But then at that point, the conversation would just stand.
Did she end it? Or did you end it?
ROBERTA: She ended it.
She just hang up on you? Or just change the subject? …
ROBERTA: Just no, we're not gonna talk about that anymore...
So your perception is that she was running the idea of euthanasia by you?
Hoping that you would be supportive?
Why did you refuse?
ROBERTA: Oh, why? Why? Because, of course, one of the difficulties lies in the fact of course, that suicide itself, self-inflicted suicide is wrong. This is a full biblical teaching, that God created the world from the beginning. There is a purpose for Man when He made Adam out of the dust and made Eve out of his rib, all of the story in Genesis indicates that God put Man into the Garden of Eden for a particular purpose. And consequently ever after that it has been understood that human lives actually have meaning and that God brings us each into the world as part of His providential order and we die of course at the time which He has allotted us. And this is simply one of the great reasons for why suicide is wrong, you are taking your life into your own hands, you are not recognizing God is the author of your existence.
To Roberta it all seemed surreal. Joanne had been a charming, witty woman. Generous. Faithfully attended her Episcopal church.
ROBERTA: She was beautifully dressed. She liked to entertain. She did a lot of volunteer work as did her generation. I think she didn't really think a lot about the deeper theological implications. I mean, she knew God was Love, which is what churches tell you these days. They don't tell you much more than that.
So that’s where things stood for about two years. Until the last weekend of September, 2022.
ROBERTA: My mother had said, ‘My helper is not going to be around on Thursday, and Friday, please come and spend those days with me.’ And I said, ‘I’ve got classes, Mom, I plan to come up and see you two weeks after that on our break.’ And she said, ‘No, no, I might not be there, here, then.’ And so I realized that this was a call which I had to respond to.
So Roberta and her husband Thomas and her son got ready to leave on Wednesday morning.
ROBERTA: As I was packing up the car, my mother's helper called me and said, ‘You know, we think you should know that your mother has decided on Saturday that she's going to be, that she's got MAiD coming in.’ Meaning the medically-assisted suicide is going to be administered on Saturday.
Do you know what MAID stands for?
ROBERTA: Oh, yes. Medical Assistance in Dying...
ROBERTA: Yeah. That's what it's called, a euphemism which everyone uses. So they don't talk about it's assisted suicide, that, that preserves the cover. We were very tense driving up and I knew I had to start working against this immediately. So I was trying to figure out how I could stop this. I have power of attorney for my mother. But clearly that was not in play. That this was all set up without me ever being told.
Roberta called her mom’s palliative care nurse. She was sympathetic but there was nothing she could do. So Roberta got the number of the person who would administer the lethal drugs, the euthanasia doctor.
ROBERTA: I got her on the phone. And I started asking her about what was going on. And she said, ‘Oh, your mother seemed very convinced that this is exactly what she wanted.’ I said, ‘You know, she's old. You know, she doesn't really hear very well. She doesn't really know what she's doing.’ Which is, of course, I was convinced my mother was, out of desperation, acting, and didn't really know what she was doing. I'm sure she would have understood it was wrong 40 years earlier, but she was not there anymore. She was just in pain and unhappy. So this doctor began to realize that I was opposed to this. I said, ‘I would really like to stop my mother before she does this,’ I said to the doctor. And the doctor said, ‘Well, if you can do it, she can change her mind up to the last minute,’ she said, ‘but you cannot object when I am there. When I am there, you cannot do anything.’
Why was that?
ROBERTA: Because once she’s there, I don't know why that must be. I don't know why, but she said, ‘You cannot object in the room, you cannot stop me once I'm there, it's done.’ I said, well, … She said to me, ‘Do you promise not to try to stop me?’ I said, ‘Well, I will accept that.’ I said, ‘I will accept that once you're in the room, I will accept that.’ Because of course, I couldn't see myself coming to fisticuffs with the doctor. You know what I mean? So I knew that I had two days to get my mother to change her mind. That was what, that was clearly what I had.
Music: Poor Judgment
ROBERTA: Well, I got up there. And I was furious with my mother's helper, because she had not told me. In fact, she had been enabling this and was supporting my mother and doing this. She said, ‘Your mother wants this. I just thought your mother should have what she wants.’
So she told you that she was supportive?
ROBERTA: Yes, absolutely. And as she is the person, as my mother couldn't call people on the phone anymore, or do anything like that, she was the person who was there to do the phone calling to the doctors, and she was also there when my mother went through, I gather there was some kind of psychological test, where she had to say, where she had to be asked certain questions and then affirm that she actually wanted to do this. And so she was there sort of, she would have to repeat the question to my mother and then my mother would answer and she was enabling it, because my mother could not have done this given how deaf she is. Really.
And this health care worker is there to help her through this process …
ROBERTA: She's just a nice lady who likes to help out with older people. When we were, getting, and I was telling her, ‘How could you let Mom do this?’ I said to her, and she said, ‘Well, I know you have religious objections, Roberta.’ And that was it. It was my personal opinion against her mother's, my mother's desire. And so my personal opinion should be set aside.
Music: Not Forginess
ROBERTA: So we got there on the Thursday.
So you walk into the facility? You’d been there before, since COVID?
ROBERTA: I’d been there three weeks before.
And she didn’t say anything about it then?
So you walk down the hallway, you walk into your mother's room. What do you see?
ROBERTA: And of course, she's sitting there. I mean, now she knows that I know. So she begins to say, ‘Well, I want you to have this and I want you to have that.’ She's giving her out her final wishes for the family. She wants me to take them down.
So what’d you say?
ROBERTA: I said, ‘I don’t want you to do this, Mum.’ She just wanted to die. And she just wanted it over with. And she wanted a day when it was going to happen. And the other thing she was, was that she wanted us all there. And she says, ‘And then you can go home on Sunday.’ And I said to her, ‘Mom, you don't realize, when you're dead, I can't go home the next day. We have to go through, we have to stay here. We have to bury you. We have to, we have to clean out your apartment. I'm here for another week.’ You know, she thought she was relieving me of something.
How big a role do you think that played in her thinking, that she wanted to relieve her family of this burden?
ROBERTA: I suspect it's there. She never said so explicitly. But I, but the way she spoke about it as though she was just going to go ‘ping!’ and disappear on Saturday. So, the next day, my mother had already arranged for my brother to come in, and my son from Toronto came in. So there were the four of my family and my brother, and we were all there. And my son, who is particularly inclined to be very devout, very devout, he was just, he came into the room, and he started crying. And he just put his arm around my mother. And I mean, we had, it was, it was a sad scene. There was, and his fiance was there, too. So a lot of us, but, but we just, you know, we were just saying you can't do this. Now that is where the real, that's my son was the one who was really beginning to put the pressure on. And in fact, he was putting so much pressure on my mother that it really upset my mother's helper, who was also there.
So on Thursday, you walk in, you realize this is, this is going to be harder than you thought?
ROBERTA: Yes, absolutely.
So how do you feel about it?
ROBERTA: I start PRAYING, I was praying, I realized there was nothing, nothing to do but to pray. It was just like, I spent more time on my knees. On the Friday about five o'clock, we were all sitting around with my mother, when the nurse who assists the death doctor arrived with the instruments for the procedure. This is the language. ‘I have the instruments for the procedure,’ she said. ‘I am the doc–the nurse for tomorrow.’ And we all turned on her. Now, I had not been told I couldn't say anything to the nurse. Right? So she said, ‘You can't say anything to me.’ So anyway, we all stood around, you know, telling her she was going to, she just had to go away and my mother was not going to do this. And she said to me, Chris turned to my mother and said, ‘Are you going to do this tomorrow?’ And my mother said, ‘Well, maybe not tomorrow.’ Which point I said, Thank You, Lord. And so at that point, she said, ‘Okay, well, I'll have the doctor phone you in the middle of the week to make a new appointment.’
So now you're stuck.
ROBERTA: Yeah. Now I knew I had to stay for the next week.
So at that point, do you believe that it's off for Saturday?
ROBERTA: Yes, I did. Because the instruments for the procedure were not left. But let me put it this way. It wasn't. I had been in the old days in the habit of sleeping on my mother's couch in the retirement home. And so my mother had been asking me to do that ever since I got there because I think she was both afraid of dying and wanting to die at the same time. And she didn't want to be alone in the middle of the night. And so I had said, ‘Oh yes, of course I'll come sleep on your couch.’ So I slept on her couch that Friday night.
And the next morning, I'm sitting there dressed. We just had breakfast in her room and in comes this doctor at nine o'clock, which is when it was supposed to happen. And I said ‘Who are you?’ She said, ‘I'm the doctor.’ I said, ‘You're not supposed to be here.’ And she said, ‘Well, I came to talk to Joanne.’ And so she pulls up a chair next to Joanne and I take my seat on the couch and we're facing each other with my mother in the middle. And she's right next to Joanne, is speaking to her directly in her ear and saying, ‘We were supposed to do something this morning, weren’t we?’
Mother said, ‘Yes.’
‘And what was that?’
‘I was supposed to die.’
‘And why isn't this happening?’
Mother says, ‘Well, I hesitated.’
At which point I looked at this woman, I said, ‘Don't you feel guilty?’ And she said, ‘Don't you speak to me like that!’
And she went on. ‘Why are we not going through this today?’
And my mother said, ‘Because my family's here.’
‘And when are your family leaving?’
‘They'll be here for a week.’
She said, ‘Well, I'll come back next Saturday.’ And then we looked at each other, and she left the room.
Music: Doubt Setting in
ROBERTA: It's hard to believe, isn't it? There's pressure to get old people to kill themselves in Canada right now.
So she left. And I thought, Okay, I have a week, Lord, Lord, please.
The story in the room is that her pain is increasing. She's needing morphine just about every hour. I'm spending most of my time with my mother actually attempting to make her more comfortable and help her because not having let her die that day, I'm feeling a little guilty that she's still in terrible pain. And I'm putting calls through to try and get this palliative doctor again over so we can do something.
Roberta and her husband Thomas spend Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday making phone calls, trying to see if anyone in the pro-life community in Canada can help at all. But there’s nothing they can do. And they’re trying to help Joanne manage her pain.
ROBERTA: So on Wednesday morning, finally, the palliative care doctor shows up and he walks into the room smiling. And we're all sitting there staring at him. He says, ‘Your mother was very insistent that she wanted this.’
I said, ‘I know she was but she is in pain. And she really doesn't know what she's doing.’
He said, ‘Well, I never heard a lot about the pain. I heard about the fact that she didn't want to live anymore because she couldn't see and she couldn't hear.’ But then he turned to us. And he said, ‘But sometimes patients don't tell the family the same thing they tell the doctors.’ Which is, I was thinking, so why didn't you call me more regularly? But nonetheless.
So he said, ‘So, I mean, you're in a lot of pain.’ And then and then he, he said to us, ‘Well, I'm, you know, I would never refer anyone for an abortion. But your mother seems so adamant.’ So you see, he was feeling like, and he said, ‘You know, when it's, I'm, I've got this duty that if somebody asked for it, I'm supposed to refer them.’ So he was kind of backing down a little bit.
Here’s the subtext of this conversation. When Canada’s assisted suicide law was passed in 2016, it had “safeguards.” Medical Assistance in Dying should only be for those who were in unbearable physical pain and whose death was, quote, “reasonably foreseeable.”
But Canada’s Liberal Party government steadily broke down those safeguards over the next few years. By the fall of 2022, the person asking for MAID must only, quote, “have enduring and intolerable physical or psychological suffering that cannot be alleviated under conditions the person considers acceptable.” So, really, it is all up to the patient.
Canada has 24-hour hotlines. Both for suicide prevention and to help people commit suicide. In theory, the social safety net is designed to provide help for those who need it, so sick people aren’t driven to suicide by lack of housing or health care. Yet Canada also provides help committing suicide for those who want to die for the “right” reasons. It’s schizophrenic.
And in Ontario doctors are legally obligated to provide for patients who ask a, quote, “effective referral” to a euthanasia doctor. So the palliative care doctor is trying to say, no, really, I’m pro-life personally, but I’m legally obligated to pass Joanne off to a euthanasia doctor if she asks for MAID.
ROBERTA: And so then he turned to my mother and said, ‘So are you still willing to go through assisted suicide?’
And my mother said, ‘What?! What?!!’ Like she didn't recognize what it was, because the term MAID had been used all the time. And the two things were not being connected in her mind. And then he turned to us.
And he said, ‘Well, that's interesting,’ more or less, and then said, ‘Are you willing to go into hospice?’ Because I had already said to him, ‘There's a great hospice in town, why not just put my mom into hospice?’ Where you're safe. So my mother went into hospice, within two hours.
So why are you safe in hospice?
ROBERTA: Because they will not allow the MAID doctors in. They are about dying, hospice is all about dying naturally. In a very humane way. It's totally operated by volunteers and by donations, at least the one that my mother was in. It is part of the whole palliative care movement, which you know, started in 1980s, which was actually to help people die with dignity in a true way.
So did you feel once she was in hospice, then …
ROBERTA: She was safe.
She was safe.
ROBERTA: Yep. But then Friday morning, very early in the morning, she died. In the hospice. I don't think we had pain fixed by that point, they had the port in her and she was getting regular morphine.
I should say that she had gone into a very deep sleep on Tuesday, where she slept most of the day. And then on that Friday, that day in the hospice, once they got her comfortable, she was asleep and she was just sleeping. So really, she was talking and we were, I mean, I tried to get her some drinking, some food. But she wasn't eating much either. And then she was just sort of out. So when I last saw her she was asleep. And then she died.
Music: Softly Falling Rain
Remember what your last words were to her or hers to you?
ROBERTA: Oh, I don't remember what her words were to me, it was probably something like, ‘I need a drink.’ You know, but to her I was, you know, I was kissing her and saying, ‘I love you’ and ‘Goodbye.’ I was at rest about this, because, I felt that the Lord really had intervened. I had two prayers, that I was asking the Anglicans for Life and you know, my son's church group. And then, I mean, I was asking for two prayers. One was that she change her mind before Saturday. The other was that she died before. And both came true. They both happened.
It's a strange kind of blessing, but it is.
ROBERTA: It is. And people wonder why I'm not sort of entirely sad about her going, but I feel like it was in the Lord's time, in the Lord's Way.
It was not a tragedy because she passed away. She was 95. She was very elderly. She was very weak. But it was, but it was close to a tragedy because she had got it into her head that she wanted assisted suicide to die, because she thought she would rather die faster than the Lord would take her.
How do you feel now?
ROBERTA: Well, now I'm grieving. Because I miss those phone calls. And I miss her voice. And I miss it. Every time I see things that used to belong to her that I have I think of her. You know, it's, it's sad now.
I’m Les Sillars, and this is Doubletake. We’ll release more "Singletakes" over the coming weeks as we continue working on Season 2. We’ll see you next time.
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