B.C. man’s assisted suicide a call to action: chaplain

  • September 2, 2019

The assisted suicide death of a Powell River, B.C., man who struggled for years to find adequate care is a call to Catholics to speak out and “challenge the legitimacy” of bureaucracies that put cost and efficiency ahead of the value of human life, says the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s pro-life chaplain.

Fr. Larry Lynn said Sean Tagert’s death shows how “the pressure being put on vulnerable people throughout Canada to end their lives for the sake of efficiency is increasing.”

Tagert, 41, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in March of 2013. In October 2017, he suffered cardiac arrest, and was subsequently placed on a ventilator. 

His illness robbed him of the ability to move his body, eat or speak, and he communicated via an eye-gaze computer. His mental acuity was unaffected.

At that time, Tagert’s doctors recommended 24-hour in-home care, but Vancouver Coastal Health, Tagert’s regional health authority, only initially offered 15.5 hours of care a day. Eventually they increased their offer to 20 hours a day, which meant Tagert had to pay $263.50 each day for the remaining four hours of required care. 

Tagert and his family continued to fight for coverage of a full day’s care, to no avail. 

“Hey everyone. I’ve been quiet lately because I’m just done, worn-out,” wrote Tagert in a July 25 post on his Facebook page. 

“So last Friday I officially submitted my medically assisted death paperwork, with lawyers and doctors, everything in proper order. It’s been over a month since I submitted my appeal to the Vancouver Coastal Health patient care quality department. They didn’t even respond.”

On Aug. 6, he received a “medically-assisted death” and died.

Tagert’s family is urging the government to change the way it treats patients with the disease. 

“We would ask, on Sean’s behalf, that the government recognize the serious problems in its treatment of ALS patients and their families, and find real solutions for those already suffering unimaginably,” reads a post on his Facebook page announcing his passing. 

The post outlined the difficulties he endured to remain in his own home.  

“While he succeeded, with the help of many, in piecing together a suitable care facility in his own home (including an expensive saliva-suction machine, needed to prevent him from choking, obtained with the help of donations raised online), gaining the 24-hour care he required was extremely difficult, especially as the provincial government refused to fully fund home care.” 

Lynn told The B.C. Catholic: “There are many things that went wrong in this case but when a secular bureaucracy puts the value of someone’s life at something less than $263.50 per day, we know we had better start challenging the legitimacy of that bureaucracy, that government, that society that tolerates it.”

The incident “speaks directly to the need for individual Catholics to witness to the truth of our faith,” he said.

(With files from The B.C. Catholic)

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