B.C. woman’s decision to take her life stokes right-to-die debate

The need for better end-of-life care in Canada persists

Shaun Best /Reuters

Shaun Best /Reuters

Gillian Bennett, 85, ended her life on Monday morning.

The retired psychotherapist, wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother was suffering from dementia and didn’t want to be a burden to her family, nor spend her final days in a care home at the government’s expense. So, while she was still well enough to be in control of her own actions, she pulled a mattress outside her home on Bowen Island, B.C., and took a mixture of barbiturates strong enough to end her life. Her husband of 60 years, Jonathan, was at her side, but did nothing to assist her.

After her death, Bennett’s family published her thoughts on dementia and her decision to take her life on a website, deadatnoon.com.

Bennett’s story is, once again, stirring the debate over end-of-life care and assisted suicide in Canada. “If someone could have helped her, she wouldn’t have had to die yesterday. She could have waited,” Bennett’s daughter, Sara, told the Vancouver Sun. “If the law was different so that she could have had help, she would not have had to choose to end her life as soon as she did. That is the hardest thing.”

End-of-life care in Canada is an issue Maclean’s, in conjunction with the Canadian Medical Association, covered in depth last year, in a series of articles and public forums held across the country. The president of the Canadian Medical Association has called the current system of end-of-life care in Canada a “national embarrassment,” where leadership is badly needed from both the federal and provincial governments.

Here are some of the stories Maclean’s published about the issue.

More on the end-of-life debate:

And, video of all of the end-of-life care forums is online here, along with a final report on the town halls from the CMA.


B.C. woman’s decision to take her life stokes right-to-die debate

  1. During my 16 years in England, I spent three years (1995-98) working as a caregiver – living with and caring for several elderly people suffering from advanced dementia. I saw first-hand how this disease leaves its victims trapped in a truly terrifying, living hell – with no way out except fading slowly and somewhat agonizingly into a merciful death. I often felt my charges were closer to anxious zombies than human beings – and did often wonder about the ethics of prolonging life as long as possible under those circumstances.

    My time as a carer left me decidedly unwilling to experience that kind of ‘life’ myself. As such, I can say hand on heart that the day I’m diagnosed with dementia is the day I start making moves to check out. When it comes that kind of illness, I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.

    In fact, maybe we should be a little more like Latin America – where people appear to embrace and celebrate death rather than attempting to ignore it and lock it away behind closed doors, as westerners seem inclined to do?

    Raising awareness
    This year, I self-published The Carer, a short e-novel based on my time as a live-in geriatric nurse. Described as a “gritty urban thriller with a social conscience”, The Carer offers a “Faustian tale of elder abuse, patricide by proxy and the corrosive effects of power.” You can buy The Carer for USD0.99 from Amazon and all other major ebook retailers.

Sign in to comment.