White Coat Black Art

Palliative Care vs Assisted Suicide: A False Dichotomy?

This week on White Coat Black Art, two big, important issues: palliative care and assisted death. We ask: Should one really come before the other...or do they go hand in hand towards helping Canadians achieve a so-called "good death?" We hear from those who have a stake in both issues.
Two advocates of both assisted death and palliative care: Maureen Taylor, physician assistant at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and Winnipeg MP Steven Fletcher (photo credits: Sunnbrook / CP Images)

''It's unCanadian not to allow people to be empowered to make end of life decisions for themselves." - Steven Fletcher, MP

It has long been believed that patients (especially those with terminal cancer) wish to die when they can no longer endure the agony of unrelieved pain - a product of inadequate palliative care. The argument goes like this: Boost access to palliative care, manage pain and watch support for assisted suicide crumble. 

But should palliative care come before assisted death? Or do they go hand in hand towards helping Canadians achieve a so-called  "good death?"  We hear from the people who have a stake in both issues. 

Carol O'Ree is a Newfoundland woman with terminal ovarian cancer. She has undergone several rounds of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. She's been off active treatment for a year, and is receiving palliative care at Health Sciences Centre in St. John's.

Fifteen months ago, Dr. Donald Low made a poignant video in favour of physician-assisted suicided, filmed just eight days before he died. His widow, Maureen Taylor tells the inside story of how Low's wish, and palliative care, filled his final days.

You can listen to a longer version of Dr. Goldman's interview with Maureen Taylor here:

Dr. James Downar, a Toronto palliative care doctor is on the Physician Advisory Council of Dying with Dignity Canada, which supports assisted death. Downar also had a working relationship with Dr.Don Low. He says the video Dr. Low made before his death made him re-think his own stance on doctor-assisted death. 

Conservative Member of Parliament and quadriplegic Steven Fletcher tells Dr.Goldman why he introduced a private member's bill on assisted death and why he thinks it will be the law of the land within just three years.