An article in the Regina Leader-Post about the life and death of a Saskatchewan man purports to make the case for euthanasia. In reality, it shows the disturbing truth of how euthanasia targets the vulnerable, as opposed to offering the chance at a “dignified,” pain-free death to those dying from terminal illnesses. The man featured in the article, Michael Hoskins, was not dying, nor did he have a terminal illness. Instead, he was disabled, and because of his disability, he was able to be euthanized.
Hoskins began having difficulties writing and speaking, as well as with balance and coordination, when he was a teenager, but he didn’t receive a diagnosis until he was in his 30s. Hoskins, it turned out, has spinocerebellar ataxia, a progressive neurodegenerative disease. According to the NHS, the condition does get progressively worse, but people can live into their 50s and 60s. Hoskins was 55.
According to his sister Lisa, who gave an interview to the Regina Leader-Post, not having a diagnosis led to difficulties in his life. “Life was hard for Michael,” she said. “Not that he didn’t enjoy his life and have the love of his family, because he absolutely did, but there was a lack of understanding from a lot of different family members about why he was the way he was.”
Despite his disability, Hoskins was able to work a variety of jobs, and also underwent military training. His sister said he found “great purpose” working for SARCAN, a Saskatchewan recycling organization. But then he fell in his apartment one day, and landed in a hospital, before moving to a nursing home. “By this time, he was choking on his own saliva,” Lisa explained. “Choking to the point of almost passing out. They had thickened his drinks. They mashed his food. He was miserable.”
So Hoskins elected for euthanasia. “Michael was on the cusp of needing to have a feeding tube and he said ‘I don’t want to live like that. I’d rather starve to death,’” Lisa said. “(The doctor) told him that was his only option, alternate methods to keep him alive or the MAID program.” He chose to undergo IV euthanasia, and Lisa used a dehumanizing metaphor to describe the process. “I’m not going to lie. It was very hard,” Lisa said. “I hate to use this description, but it was like making the decision that you’re going to put your beloved dog down, but you’re going to wait … to do it.”
Lisa said that her brother’s death was a “beautiful process” that she wants to tell as many people as possible about, at her brother’s request.
“Current Treatment Options in Neurology” is a medical journal, and in one article, cerebrellar ataxia was discussed, with an interesting warning:
Depression in the patient and family members is common. Although no cures exist for most of the causes of cerebellar ataxia and there are as yet no proven ways to protect neurons from premature cell death or to restore neuronal populations that have been lost, symptomatic treatment can greatly improve the quality of life of these patients and prevent complications that could hasten death. Supportive interventions should always be offered– education about the disease itself, genetic counseling, individual and family counseling, referral to support groups and advocacy groups, and guidance to online resources. Misinformation, fear, depression, hopelessness, isolation, and financial and interpersonal stress can often cause more harm to the patient and caregiver than the ataxia itself.
Was Hoskins treated for depression or hopelessness? That’s not known, but it seems likely that he was not. Indeed, the British Medical Journal has published a study showing that medical professionals do not recognize depression among those seeking assisted suicide, and that those patients are rarely evaluated for psychiatric disorders.
Living with a feeding tube is understandably not something that anyone relishes, but it is not a life-threatening condition. Yet despite Hoskins’ despair and hopelessness, and the fact that he was not dying, he was still permitted to be killed under Canadian euthanasia laws.
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