Several weeks ago I wrote that something happened that I thought would never happen. And what was the reaction of readers?
At 92 years of age I had asked the Registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to reinstate my medical license which I had reluctantly given up at the age of 87. Why? Because of a shameful and despicable medical event in Alberta.
A resident of Alberta was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, totally paralyzed and close to choking to death in her own mucous. It’s a malady as close to hell as you can ever get. She had requested doctor assisted death and was granted by a judge the legal right to die if she had the consent of two doctors.
What is deplorable is that lacking the consent of any doctor she had to be transported from Alberta to British Columbia to end her suffering. It boggled my mind to understand how any doctor, regardless of race, religion or colour could ignore her pleas for help. So I wanted my license back just in case this happened in Ontario and no doctor was willing to help.
J.T. in British Columbia wrote, “I so admire your efforts in the battle for dying with dignity. I was blown away by the column. I scan the obits each day, mainly to see how many die peacefully knowing full well that a huge number battle their way to the end, anything but peacefully. I hope that soon physicians will step up to the plate and do the right thing for dying patients.”
A minister wrote, “Thank you Gifford-Jones for bringing your skill and compassion to those facing terrible suffering. God bless you for your courage and caring.”
Another reader from B.C. writes, “Please accept my heartfelt congratulations for your excellent column. And of course my wish that your application to reinstate your medical license will be promptly dealt with by the College. I have long been an admirer of your column and seldom disagree with you! The assisted death controversy has gone on too long and I do not understand the anti-position prevalent among the medical profession.”
She continued, “My heart ached when I read of your description of this patient’s harrowing journey and hope that your column will move mountains and other doctors will come forward.”
But not all readers believed I should have requested a return of my license.
J.D writes, “My wife and I think you have earned your retirement and should not go back to practicing especially for the sole reason you mention. My suggestion is to lend your support in setting up a register of doctors to administer what I call Extreme Palliative Care for the Terminally Ill who are suffering awful pain.”J. B writes, “I watched my wife suffocating from mucous and was only able to communicate by using a boogy board. I hope doctors take a look in the mirror and ask themselves would they wish to die this way.”
So how did the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario respond to my request to have my medical license back? Organizations often take a long time to reply. But in this case it was just as few days.
The general message was that it was possible my request could result in a favourable outcome. But the letter, which was not signed by the Registrar, so I have no idea if he saw it, said my reinstatement would not occur overnight and require several months. There was also another proviso. Since I had not practiced medicine for the last five years, I would, in all probability, be asked to take a refresher course as well.
I was of course not asking to actually practice medicine, simply to provide a lethal injection if the need should arise. But this reply did not surprise me, as it was a most unusual request, with no precedent for bureaucracy to handle it. So in the end the rule book reigned supreme.