Marcel ate at a nice restaurant on Friday night, the kind in a fancy hotel. He was surrounded by 50 friends and family members who toasted him and wished him well. He wore his favourite blue sweater. Anyone seeing this kindly 78 year old man may have assumed that he was celebrating his retirement. He was not.
He went back to his Ottawa home with a few of his close family members, shared some fond words with each of them as he sat in his most comfortable recliner. Then, he put a helium-filled bag on his head and was dead within 5 minutes as his family watched on.
Marcel Tremblay went to a wake on Friday night - his own.
He had been planning it for three months prior, always hoping he wouldn't need it, but upon waking up every morning, he moved the plans forward. He was dying of a lung condition, but to his view, he wasn't dying fast enough. So, he took matters into his own hands. Marcel Tremblay is dead now, by his own hand.
Dying with dignity.
Dying with dignity?
This, of course, raises a lot of controversy. In Canada, it is legal to commit suicide as long as the person doesn't receive help from anyone else. Marcel Tremblay was a sane man. He was suffering. He chose for it to end.
This does not sit well with a lot of people. Words and phrases like 'euthanasia', 'assisted-suicide', 'mercy killing', 'compassionate homicide', 'the value of life', 'the quality of life', 'God's will', and 'the human will' are tossed around, back and forth, and eventually lose their meaning until the next prominent case occurs.
Many of us remember Robert Latimer, who, back in 1993, put his 12-year old daughter Tracy into the cab of his pick-up truck, and killer her with carbon monoxide poisoning. She had severe cerebral palsy, was a paraplegic, and functioned at the level of a three-month old baby. She was due for more surgery and lived in constant pain. Her father judged it better to watch his little girl die than to watch her suffer anymore.
He was convicted of second degree murder.
I'm not going to get into ethics and morals here today. We all have our beliefs, and we are all entitled to them.
What I'm thinking today is this:
What must it have felt like to watch Marcel die? To watch those last breaths of life. Did he give someone's hand a final squeeze? Did he close his eyes? Did he, even for just a second, have a flash of regret on his face?
If you want to know the value of 5 minutes, then think about what it must have been like to be in that room. To know that with one quick tear of the bag, life could be preserved. How many had that temptation? How many fought the urge to save Marcel's life? 5 minutes can be a very long time.
Marcel committed suicide. He chose this end by himself. But being surrounded by loved ones, he could have been stopped. How do you decide to support your father/husband/brother in their quest to die? How do you stand there for 5 minutes? The room must have been gravely silent, and we can only imagine the thoughts and memories and doubts and grief that went on in their heads.
Tracy, however, did not commit suicide. She was euthenized (or killed). She did not choose to die; someone else made that choice for her. But then, someone else also decided what surgeries to give her, what food to feed her, where to place her wheel chair, what she looked at for hours of the day, who she interacted with, what clothes she wore, what course her life would take.
By all accounts Robert Latimer was a very loving father. He believed that ending her pain and suffering was an act of love and compassion. He still believes that now, after serving 11 years in prison. This, of course, makes other disabled Canadians wary. None of us would want someone else to decide whether our life was worth living or not. But in some cases, that does happen. Lots of people have a living will, and lots of people give their parents or their spouses power of attorney should anything happen to them that would keep them from communicating their wishes.
Parents make decisions for their children all the time. They decide the most intimate details of their child's life before the child is even born: name, religion, place of birth. Parents decide whether the child will be circumsized, where the child will go to school, what medical treatments will be received or refused. Robert Latimer took this one step further; perhaps one step too far. Certainly his actions were not legal in this country. The news of Tracy's death hit people all over the country hard; there was an outpouring of support for Robert, and there was a lot of condemnation as well.
At the end of the day, Tracy is dead. Her father wrapped her in a blanket, laid her across the seat of his Chevy truck, and sat on the wheel to watch her die while the rest of the family was at church. We don't know what tears were shed on that day. Until you are in that situation, you just cannot understand. I imagine that the decision did not come easily, or quickly. They say that losing a child is the worst pain you can experience, but what about this? What kind of pain are you in when you turn the key to the ignition, and say your goodbyes? We can't know. All we know is that Robert Latimer insists he has no regrets.
Neither does Marcel Tremblay. Dead men don't regret. Marcel is dead. Tracy is dead. May their souls rest in peace.