Skip to main content

Al Hancock holds a picture of his mother Rosemary Hancock who died of cancer, in Edmonton Alberta, October 13, 2014. Hancock believes in having a choice in ending your own life.

JASON FRANSON/The Globe and Mail

As one of the world's top high-altitude climbers, Al Hancock knows something about pain and suffering.

But the pain he experiences getting to the summit of Mount Everest, K2 and the world's highest peaks, he said, is productive and purposeful, "so that's okay." When his mother, Rosemary, was dying from cancer, he witnessed a different kind of suffering – intractable and without purpose.

"It was cruel," Mr. Hancock said. "Nobody should have to suffer like that. She should have had a choice to die on her own terms." His mom died last Thanksgiving, at age 76, after a long battle with bowel cancer. Mr. Hancock said cancer spread throughout her body and that, in the final days, her pain was relentless, despite the large doses of morphine that were administered.

Story continues below advertisement

"Those final days at her bedside will haunt me forever," he said.

Mr. Hancock, a resident of Edmonton, left the hospital shaken and demoralized. He travelled to Nepal to perform a Puja, a Hindu ritual to honour his mother's memory.

While doing so, he realized he needed to do more, and upon his return to Canada decided to become an advocate for assisted death, and a patron of the advocacy group Dying With Dignity Canada.

"I think the time for choice in dying has come, and I'm not alone," Mr. Hancock said, pointing to a recent poll.

The survey, conducted by Ipsos Reid, found that 91 per cent of Canadians agreed with the statement that a person should not be compelled to endure drawn-out suffering. The poll also showed that a large majority, 84 per cent, agreed with the statement that a "doctor should be able to help someone end their life if the person is a competent adult who is terminally ill, suffering unbearably and repeatedly asks for assistance to die." The findings are important because, later this week, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear a case in which it is being asked to declare unconstitutional the Criminal Code provisions that make assisted suicide a crime. The court refused to strike down the law in a similar case two decades ago, saying it would offend Canadian values.

The key question now is: Have those values changed?

Wanda Morris, the head of Dying With Dignity, said she is convinced they have, and is "cautiously optimistic" that the court case will succeed.

Story continues below advertisement

While awaiting the ruling, which will come months after the one day set aside for legal arguments, what is important is that Canadians openly discuss their end-of-life wishes with their loved ones, she said.

Mr. Hancock said that not having done so is one of his biggest regrets.

"We never had the conversation about death, and what kind of death she wanted," he said.

"To this day, I don't know if my mom would have chosen assisted death. But what I know is she should have had the choice." Mr. Hancock said that the taboo about discussing death is dissipating and, as a result, people will insist on having a say in how their care is managed at end of life.

"I know one thing: I will never allow myself to die like my mom," he said. "She wasn't given the choice of dignified death, and that's wrong."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter