Monday December 11, 2017
Will Pegg will die an assisted death. He couldn't feel more alive
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- Doctors frustrated with lack of clarity for medically assisted dying practices in Canada
- Monday December 11, 2017 Full Episode Transcript
- Full Episode
Will Pegg's body is slowly falling apart, riddled with metastatic bone cancer.
First his rib cage will fall apart, then his vertebrae. That will crush the nerves in those areas and may cause paralysis.
- From The Current: Doctors frustrated
At 58, he knows he doesn't want to die this way. So he's chosen to go on his own terms, with a medically assisted death.
"It seems beautiful that we can end our time together on this planet potentially somewhere that's beautiful for me and them and with a lot less drain on the resources of myself, my family and the Canadian medical system."
Pegg was diagnosed in January 2017, a mere six months after medically assisted dying was made legal here. At least 2,000 Canadians have died this way since.
About one-third of those have happened in British Columbia — the majority on Vancouver Island, where Pegg lives in Victoria. Those who live on the island have chosen assisted death at a rate five times higher than the rest of Canada.
Cancer was the most common reason why people decided to get an assisted death, representing about 63 per cent of all cases in this country so far, according to Health Canada.
Pegg has been getting to know Dr. Stefanie Green, who will administer the drugs that will kill him.
She explained how it works in a recent visit. There are four doses of medication. Pegg has to say he is ready to go before Green will start, and even then, she will ask him again, just in case he's changed his mind.
The whole process only takes about 10 minutes.
It's a scary thought for some, but Pegg has come to terms with it.
"Stefanie gave me my life back. And I think the perception might be that MAID [medical assistance in dying] is about dying. But as far as my personal experience of it, it is about living," he said.
"In my situation, it's allowed this year to flower and for me to have full participation in the culture, in my family life. Stefanie is in the position to accord me mercy, which is an incredible gift in the midst of dark circumstances."
Green worked in maternity for many years — the sign pointing to her office still says "maternity and newborn care."
When the law changed last year, she began taking on patients at the opposite end of life.
She feels very privileged at the opportunity.
"This is an amazing opportunity to be involved with someone on such an intimate level," she said. "And I don't take that for granted."
Given the relationships she makes with her patients, Green said there's no weight on her in helping people die.
"I always feel like I've done something good when I leave," she said. "I will never assist someone who I don't think meets the criteria of the law, so I don't put myself in a position where I'm worried about going to jail.
"I've only experienced gratitude from people and — it sounds weird — I feel like I've done a good thing. I feel satisfied, I feel good."
Pegg has surrounded himself with positive people, like Green. Also in the group are Quakers, Buddhists, environmentalists, nurses, and counsellors. When he became sick, they set up committees and got to work.
There's Marga St. James, a dear friend since the '80s who has put her life on hold to help him. She sorts out his finances and registers him for palliative care.
Dan Jason is Pegg's farming friend.
Before he got sick, Pegg ran his own organic gardening business. He primarily hired young people who were recovering from addictions and trauma.
Jason runs Seed Spirit Farms, which Pegg likes to visit. On his last trip there, they planted garlic together.
Erin Munro was 24 when she first met Pegg. He hired her as a gardener, and they went on to become dear friends.
She's supports Pegg and his decisions — going to doctor's appointments with him — but has mixed feelings about when he decides to die.
"I just don't want to miss any moments, that comes up for me. Because it's just so final," she said. "The end is the end and that's it."
And of course, there's Louise Takeda.
She was a mere acquaintance of Pegg's before the diagnosis. But after he told her the bad news, she decided there was still time to get to know him. She began volunteering to stay with him after his chemo treatments.
And unexpectedly, they fell in love.
The two were married in November. It was a Buddhist wedding, and Pegg said it probably would not be legally recognized.
It's a special kind of love to fall in love with someone who is dying, said Pegg.
"She really saw me at my completely lowest ebb and my most vulnerable."
"My body aged 10 years in a few months. My hair fell out, my skin fell apart," he said.
"You really have to find a love that's greater than that pain," added Takeda. "And be willing to make that space in your own heart to have pain, to have fear and to be okay with that."
Pegg has come to terms with it.
He doesn't know when he'll be ready to die. But he's in no rush. Last February, it looked like he might die soon, and then his treatment started working.
When the time comes, he'd like to die on a beach at Clayoquot Sound, on the far west coast of Vancouver Island.
"Having never died before, or at least not that I'm aware of, it's a bit hard to envision. But this whole process for me has been about trying to embrace wellness for the people around me," he said.
"It would be without drama, hopefully, without a lot of footprints left on their hearts because of my desire for things to be this way or that way. I'll need to surrender to what's possible. And there should be singing."