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I’m a 20-year-old planning assisted suicide — I’ve had enough

Assisted suicide is a controversial topic in many countries. In Canada, however, it is a legal part of health care – naturally, with some pretty strict regulations around it. This 20-year-old boy in Canada who has suffered from an incurable unknown illness for most of his life has elected to go through with assisted suicide. These are his reasons why.

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20-Year-Old Planning Assisted Suicide

Eric Coulam is a 20-year-old boy from British Columbia, Canada. For most of his life, he has been in pain and discomfort due to an illness that doctors have not been able to figure out. Recently, he learned that in order to live, he will need six organ transplants. Even with these transplants, his chances of survival are still only 50%. For this reason, he has elected to pursue medically assisted death, also known as assisted suicide. (1) In Canada, it is technically known as medical assistance in dying (MAID).

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“There’ll be an end to suffering. I suffer all day long. I’ve been in a four-walled room for a very long time and I’ve just had enough,” he explained.

Eric Coulam | GoFundMe

As already mentioned, Coulam has spent most of his life in pain. It began with a gastrointestinal condition that doctors were unable to identify. This condition caused a lot of stomach pain and distress. He continued to deteriorate after that. First, he lost his small bowel, next he contracted kidney and liver disease. He’s suffered from continuous infections and chronic pain. Eventually part of his intestine ruptured and he went into septic shock.

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“I went into emergency and got a bed right away and that night [it] ruptured and [I] got put in a coma for I can’t remember how long,” he recalled.

All the while, no doctors in any hospital he has visited can figure out his illness. The doctors informed him that his only chance at survival is to have this never-before-done number of organ transplants – six, to be exact. Even with that his chances of making it are only 50%.

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Electing To Die With Dignity

Not long after his episode with the coma, he learned about assisted death. He thought about it for quite some time before coming to the conclusion that it was his best option. His life has been hard and for the most part, not very enjoyable. He has spent most of it suffering. Going through six organ transplants would be tremendously difficult. Then, to go through all of it to have a 50% chance of dying anyway just doesn’t seem worth it for him.

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“I thought about it for a while, I kind of ghosted my family because I wasn’t in a good place,” he said. “I knew it was what I wanted to do.” 

Eric Coulam | GoFundMe

He made the decision and recently hosted a farewell barbecue for his family and friends to inform them of his decision. Coulam has not yet chosen the date. He says that he will do it when he is ready to.

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“It is not when I am sick. It is not when they pull my medications. It is when I am ready,” he explained.

In one of his last public interviews, he explained how he felt about it in more depth.

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“I sometimes lay there at night and get sad sometimes, but for the most part, I’m waiting for the day because I’m in lots of pain all the time… I’m on many meds just to be comfortable for a few hours.” (2)

Eric’s Army

Coulam lived for several years with his grandmother after his mother committed suicide. It was shortly after that when his health problems started. His grandmother says that she believes his intense grieving had something to contribute to his problems. As a child, he became close friends with the girl and boy who lived next door. To this day, they are two of his closest friends, with the girl being like an older sister to him. They created a Facebook page called Eric’s Army that she, Brittany Yawney, monitors. In one day it went from 100 members to 800 and now has over 1000. Yawney is fiercely supportive of Coulam and as sad as it makes her, she defends his decision on the Facebook page. (3)

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“He’s been so robbed of his life,” she said. “Eric knows best, it’s his life and his body and we all need to respect the decision he’s made because NONE of us know how much he has gone through… “Unless you’ve walked a day in Eric’s shoes, nobody gets a say except for Eric,”

Medically Assisted Death

As already mentioned, Medically Assisted Death is legal in Canada, which is known as Medical assistance in dying or MAID. The government made it legal in June of 2016, though naturally with tight restrictions. First of all, only physicians and nurse practitioners are allowed to carry out assisted death. These practitioners are not forced to do so, however, so if a patient requests it, they can refer them to someone else should they not feel comfortable. The patient must meet the following requirements in order to be considered eligible (4):

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  • be eligible for health services funded by the federal government, or a province or territory (or during the applicable minimum period of residence or waiting period for eligibility)
    • generally, visitors to Canada are not eligible for medical assistance in dying
  • be at least 18 years old and mentally competent. This means being capable of making health care decisions for yourself.
  • have a grievous and irremediable medical condition
  • make  a voluntary request for MAID that is not the result of outside pressure or influence
  • give informed consent to receive MAID

You do not need to have a fatal or terminal illness or diagnosis to be eligible. For the condition to be considered grievous and irremediable, however, it must meet the following criteria:

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  • have a serious illness, disease or disability (excluding a mental illness until March 17, 2023)
  • be in an advanced state of decline that cannot be reversed
  • experience unbearable physical or mental suffering from your illness, disease, disability or state of decline that cannot be relieved under conditions that you consider acceptable

MAID can be performed in two ways: With the injection of specific lethal drugs or oral medication. Both ways are painless and peaceful. The injection is clinically administered whereas the other can be self-administered. There are also others permitted to be there and help in the process, such as elected friends or family members.

Controversial

In Canada, 86% of the population supports MAID. They believe that people have the right to die with dignity and end their suffering on their own terms, rather than living in pain for long periods of time before dying. The process is lengthy and involved, as it is not one that the medical system takes lightly. (5)

“The decision to pursue an assisted death is not taken lightly. A request for MAID is initiated by an individual, and only that individual can consent to the procedure.  The consent must be informed, meaning the individual must have received all the information available on forms of treatment and options to relieve suffering, including palliative care,” explained Dying With Dignity Canada CEO Helen Long.  “They must meet the eligibility criteria and have been assessed by two independent practitioners. The strenuous assessment process includes procedural safeguards, assessing capacity and ensuring that an individual is not being coerced into making a request for MAID. The individual can change their mind at any time during this process.”

For Coulam, he says he would rather go on his own terms rather than continue suffering until this unknown disease eventually takes his life. For this reason, he has elected Medically Assisted Death, just the same as many other Canadians. There are many people around the world who wish they could have this option but don’t. Perhaps in the future, more countries will offer this option for those with incurable conditions.

Eric’s Bucket List

Eric’s close friend Brittany who manages Eric’s Army Facebook page has also set up a GoFundMe to help him complete his “Bucket List”

“I’ve created this GoFundMe in the hopes that this would allow him to do things like helicopter rides, attend events/concerts, be able to do more with his friends, and be able to eat food and drinks that aren’t from the hospital,” Brittany Yawney said in the fundraiser description. (6)

Keep Reading: A Doctor Built a Machine That Helps People Die

Sources

  1. I’m a 20-year-old planning assisted suicide — I’ve had enough.” NY Post. Brooke Kato. June 29, 2022.
  2. Canadian man explains why he is planning on assisted suicide at 20 years old.” Independent. Shweta Sharma. June , 2022.
  3. Choosing death at 20: B.C. man says medically assisted dying is best way to end the pain of undiagnosed illness.” Vancouver Sun. June 22, 2022.
  4. Medical assistance in dying.” Canada
  5. Most Canadians support medical assistance in dying. So why is it considered controversial?MaCleans. Helen Long. May 31, 2022.
  6. “Friends look to help Eric Coulam tackle his ‘bucket list’” Energetic City. July 4, 2022.
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