While this is a story of tremendous social, political and legal importance, making Road to Mercy has also been a very personal journey for me. My mother died of liver cancer on March 11, 1987 at the age of 52. She endured nearly a decade of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and suffered greatly in the final weeks of her life. As her death neared even administering the morphine that was meant to relieve her suffering caused her agonizing pain. She died at home surrounded by her husband, children and sisters, although she was so heavily medicated I’m not sure she realized we were by her side.
My mother’s name was Angeline. She had wanted to go sooner, but in 1987 a physician-assisted death was not an option. Witnessing the cruelty of terminal cancer inflicted on someone I love has lead me to believe that medical assistance in dying (MAiD) can be a merciful act. As with many things in life, it is through personal experience that we shape our opinions and values. I see this film, Road to Mercy, as a way for Canadians to share these very important personal experiences, so that we might begin to understand and respect each other’s choice.
It has taken decades for Canadian attitudes to shift on this issue, so that today MAiD is supported by the vast majority of Canadians. How assisted death is presented and understood in these early days of its practise is critical for the availability of this treatment for Canadians going forward. I am forever grateful to the people who allowed us to film with them in their final days, and to the many others who spoke with us over the months that we searched for people willing to share their stories. The discussion that Road to Mercy will encourage is only possible because of the generous and courageous contributions of these individuals.
There have been many documentary films on assisted dying. Not surprisingly most deal with the right to die in the case of terminal illness. In Road to Mercy I want to challenge people to think more deeply about this issue. The Supreme Court of Canada has given us an unprecedented ruling; Carter v Canada allows people suffering from degenerative diseases and mental illness the possibility of an assisted death. Canada is the first country outside of Europe to have a legal framework, that could potentially lead to wider accessibility making physician-assisted death available to people suffering from non-terminal illnesses.
Everyone I’ve spoken to in the course of producing this film understands that these are not decisions to be taken lightly. In reading and listening to the many witness presentations to the federal committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, I am very proud of the thoughtful comments and research presented to our parliamentarians. Organizations that have thought deeply about this issue presented nuanced and unexpected positions; the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health did not rule out MAID for the mentally ill, and people living with disabilities came down on both sides of the issue.
The Liberal government often refers to the passage of Bill C-14 as a first step. The Senate has expressed its view that the new law should be broadened to include Canadians who are suffering interminably with no end in sight. And the federal Supreme Court has said the right to die with dignity is a constitutional right of all Canadians.
In June 2016 the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the same organization that won the Carter case, launched a challenge to the new law asserting that it does not respect the new Charter right handed down by the Supreme Court. As a country we should take this opportunity to have this very important discussion now, before the next court decision is upon us.