University of Toronto
Class of 2016
Taut sheets as cotton fetters
In curtained cloister bare
Enshroud the shrivelled limbs
Whose fingers flex in fetal curl
‘Round liquid sleep.
Masked messenger in priestly white,
Hath divined th’encircling doom?
My fallen airways, Medusa’s veins spell
Lips pursed, throat tight, and orbits sunk,
You scrabble to set me free
Of serpent tubes and catheter lines
Ensnaring, strangling me.
But stenotic hours, austerities
Have hemmed you in too far.
I fault you not, dear Hermes, but quick–
Prescribe your closing mercy:
The noose which crowns your chiselled neck can’t
Auscultate mute screams.
I pray: release these sesame pupils to
Spelunk Elysian dreams.
Where is the point of narrative in this poem ?
It can’t be the patient : “ Whose fingers flex in fetal curl ‘Round liquid sleep.”
Nor can it be the Doctor, who is addressed directly: “I fault you not, dear Hermes,”
Is it God ? Common Sense ? Budgetary restrictions of the State (“austerities have hemmed you in too far…”) ?
Allow me to recall in terse prose: Medical professionals have been released from criminal responsibility in the deliberate death of competent patients, who have made the formal demand, subject to stringent safeguards. This was done to accommodate the wishes of a small number; the vast majority of patients have no desire to shorten their lives. Moreover, in consultations prior to decriminalization: Two thirds of Canadian doctors indicated they would not personally participate in active euthanasia; and one third believed that such measures should remain forbidden for all.
In this poem, therefore, we apparently have the evocation of an undefined Superior Perspective enjoining the obedient physician to be “quick”, and “release these sesame pupils to Spelunk Elysian dreams”, albeit against the collective wisdom of doctors, patients, and the democratic process.
Let us be perfectly clear : It is unacceptable (not to mention frankly criminal), for doctors listening to strange inner urgings, to simply put an end to patients as suggested here. Period. Full stop.
Feel the Love,
Gordon Friesen, Montreal
P.S. There is also a rather unsettling religious — or at least spiritual – bias here in the euphemistic association of death with “Elysian dreams”. Many people today do not welcome death as a portal to Heaven or Peace. They rationally accept suffering in life as a preferable alternative to annihilation in death. These wishes, also, must be respected.