Dying with dignity is a leadership issue whose time has come

September 8, 2014

As mayor, one of my top priorities will be to move the needle forward on the topic of dying with dignity. Now you might be thinking “what a depressing topic,” or “this is not a municipal issue,” and you would be right on both counts. But it has a much closer connection to the mayoral election than you might think. So please hear me out.

When people – individuals or charities – stage events such as the recent ALS ice bucket challenge, or a marathon or concert, they are doing so because they recognize how pointless it is to wait for the Government to take the reins. To make a change, you – we – the community – have to do it. Moreover, the Court of Public Opinion matters and leads to significant societal change more often than not.

And that is why my Dying with Dignity platform is a mayoral platform. Because this city needs a leader to talk about the things that matter in people’s lives. To make change happen, you don’t sit outside some Federal Minister’s office and ask to “fill out an application for a meeting to discuss the possibility of contemplating a motion to study the potential impact of a pilot project in social change.” You get out there and you do it.

The issue of dying with dignity – to have a greater say in the manner and timing of a person’s death is a contentious issue, quietly approved of by 84% of Canada’s population, but moved to the back burner because…well…who is actually in charge of this? The Federal Government? Doctors? Hospitals? Certainly not the Mayor.

The province of Québec recently passed legislation allowing for greater individual power in terms of choosing to end one’s life with dignity, and I believe that Toronto, as the fourth largest city in North America should at least provide moral guidance on the topic, without waiting for our Federal Government to make up its mind.

My grandfather died from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and so I know first-hand the horror and the unnecessary trauma that is involved when a terminally ill person is forced to endure the full extent of a disease solely to avoid dishonouring a physician’s Hippocratic oath.  Fortunately the Canadian Medical Association voted last month in favour of changing its policies so that they no longer prohibit physicians from assisting patients with terminal illnesses with assisted dying.  I can only hope our courts of law and our governments will have the vision to make legal what the nation’s doctors have proposed.

I joined this mayoral race to make a difference, not just to be the next in line for the throne. I want to make this city leap ahead – to join the ranks of the really smart cities around the world – smart on transit, smart on technology and smart on proactive social programs.

For a leader to truly inspire requires outstanding and inspiring moral fibre – something clearly lacking in Toronto’s current Mayor.  What an elected mayor believes in and stands for should be crystal clear and serve as a role model for his/her community to follow.  This is not just about immediate policy within that elected official’s domain.  It’s about being able to answer and understand who your elected official actually is. What are the moral, ideological, policy, municipal, and humane issues that they feel passionate about? It is not leadership to simply adopt a slogan that says, “I am just like you” or “I am an immigrant” or “I care about you”.

My view is that a politician’s moral beliefs and vision do matter.  And regardless of policy, a true leader takes tough positions and draws a line in the sand.  I want people to know what I care about.  Dying with dignity may not be a city hall issue, and maybe I can’t directly move a lever to make it happen, but I do know that a credible, respected mayor can have a huge voice, and can exert great influence in pressuring other levels of government for the right decisions on this and many other issues

So yes, I strongly believe in the principle of dying with dignity. It should be a basic human right.  And that is a position of moral leadership that I intend to use the voice of the office of the Mayor of Toronto to support in every way possible.

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