Aging/Gerontology, End-of-Life, Health Conditions/Diseases

Assisted Suicide

An article in the Winnipeg Free Press states that Susan Griffiths, age 72 is heading to Switzerland and the Dignitas Clinic where she will end her life on her own terms in the next few weeks. She has Multiple System Atrophy, an incurable disease with Parkinson’s like symptoms; loss of balance, movement and control of virtually every bodily function. She does not want to suffer needlessly watching and waiting for her body to slowly wither away, being in pain and relying on medications to lessen the pain nor does she want to rely on machines to keep her body going. She has already suffered over the past year with these symptoms.

CBC News reports that friends of Susan Griffiths have taken this issue on and will continue to approach government officials about re-opening the assisted suicide topic. This week, although Ms. Griffiths has left for Europe, her friends will mail 286 letters written by Griffiths to MPs across the country, advocating for change.

This is a difficult issue for many and often personal values, as well as religious values will influence which side of the fence one is on. Perhaps one way to contemplate this issue is to think, “What would I do in a similar situation?”

The National Post has quite a few articles regarding assisted suicide and how the topic is being approached in British Columbia and Quebec, Canada along with the state of Oregon in the U.S. and the links within are worth reading.

What are your thoughts on this topic?

Victoria Brewster, MSW

*First posted at:

Humanity, News, Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

Could You Live on $1.75 a Day?

The Huffington Post: Canada published an article, “Could You Live in Canada on $1.75 a Day?” The title speaks for itself in that it is hard to imagine anyone living on $1.75 a day, yet this is the reality for many in the world. The author of this article, Erin Deviney, lived in Australia for nine months and worked for the Global Poverty Project. Their vision is to live in a word without extreme poverty. The Global Poverty Project utilizes the power of education, communication, advocacy, campaigning, and the media to advance the movement to end extreme poverty in two ways:

Creating change
We know the world’s extreme poor are working hard to fight poverty themselves. At the Global Poverty Project we focus on getting behind their efforts, by mobilizing everyday people to take powerful actions for lasting change.

To this end, since launching in 2008 we have:

• Developed 1.4 Billion Reasons – a ground breaking multimedia presentation that explains the issues that contribute to extreme poverty, and what we can do about them,

• Spoken to more than 100,000 people on three continents about the simple actions they can take to help tackle extreme poverty,

• Launched the international advocacy and fundraising campaign Live Below the Line – engaging more than 20,000 people with the lack of choice inherent in extreme poverty, and raising more than $3 million for anti-poverty initiatives.

• Grown political support for polio eradication and raised more than $118 million for critical vaccination programs through The End of Polio campaign.

1.4 Billion Reasons

The Global Poverty Project team is presenting 1.4 Billion Reasons to communicate the realities of extreme poverty and what everyday people can do to help end this injustice.

The key messages of the presentation are:
•Extreme poverty and the issues around it are important, urgent and related to me.
•Our generation can end extreme poverty, and I can play a part in making this happen.
•To overcome these challenges, it’s got to be a global movement, bringing together people from around the world.
•It’s not going to be quick or easy, but I am committed to playing my part so we can achieve our global goals.

1.4 Billion Reasons is a thought-provoking multimedia presentation worth watching as it will educate, provide awareness, and demonstrate the challenges of extreme poverty that many who live in underdeveloped, impoverished, and third world countries face daily. The presentation holds that extreme poverty can be ended within a generation. It outlines success stories and addresses how barriers to development can be overcome.

Erin Deviney lived in Cambodia and Grenada for a few years and continued to witness extreme poverty. When she returned to Toronto, Canada she described one of her biggest challenges was sharing with others what it means to live on $1.75 a day; that this amount was to cover food, housing, medicine, water and education. Think of your own current lifestyle and needs. Any one of us in North America can walk into a coffee shop and very easily spend that $1.75.

She created Live Below the Line. The idea is to to raise awareness, educate, and ask individuals in ‘wealthier’ countries to challenge themselves to take action and focus on what others do not have.

Between April 29th through May 3rd, those living in Canada have the opportunity to sign up for the challenge to ‘Live Below the Line’ and raise funds for four organizations, Cuso International, Spread the Net, Raising the Village and RESULTS Canada.

The challenge? Spend 5 days feeding yourself with $1.75 a day – the Canadian equivalent of the extreme poverty line.

The reason?
To give a glimpse into the lives of 1.4 billion people who have no choice but to live below the line every day – and who have to make $1.75 cover a lot more than food.

Innovative ideas come from people who are passionate about a particular cause and/or area of interest and want to make a difference in the world. This is a good thing and I hope to see more innovative ideas created to ‘tackle’ the many challenges the world faces today such as: healthcare, access to affordable housing, quality education for all youth, an increase in services for seniors, more research dollars earmarked for cures for chronic and incurable diseases, improving the environment, and reducing pollution. The list is endless, but all it takes is one individual to come up with an innovative idea for change; as a result education, advocacy, and action typically follow.

Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW

* First posted at:

Aging/Gerontology, Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

Alzheimer’s ‘Checkbook’- A Creative Solution

When a loved one develops Alzheimer’s, the diagnosis can be devastating for both the one afflicted and the family. The progression of the disease is different for each individual, and the tasks one is able to manage or take part in is different from person to person as is the reaction and involvement of the family in taking over tasks. This is when creative solutions to what could be a ‘sticky’ situation are needed to ensure the one with the disease feels they are still contributing members of society.

One article I came across discusses one such solution. The article describes one family creating the ‘phony’ checkbook to lessen the stress that this task was causing to all members involved. In this situation, one daughter became the financial Power of Attorney and in the transition phase, anxiety was invoked due to errors and discrepancies noted that the mother had made over time, along with the frustration the mother voiced and felt in having someone else take over her finances. In a last effort to improve the functioning and outcome of this task for all, the family developed the ‘phony’ checkbook, in which the mother was able to do her finances on ‘closed’ checks, the daughter was able to assist while not correcting, and the bills were still paid.

Creative solutions such as this can reduce frustration and stress, promote validation, allow for the family to ‘just be’ with the parent who has Alzheimer’s and reduce the feeling/need of constant correction or trying to prove a point with one who cognitively cannot understand due to the disease.

Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW

*First posted at:

Healthcare, News

The Gap Between Rich and Poor

The gap between rich and poor is growing. There used to be a ‘middle class’ but I find this segment disappearing. There is the wealthy and everyone else. Everyone else describes those who used to be classified as middle class or lower-middle class and those that live in poverty. Poverty also has its classifications of those that live at or above the poverty line, those that live below the poverty line and the extreme poor.

When it comes to health and healthcare these same classifications hold true even in a country like Canada where there is socialized medicine. A write-up on, a project under the direction of Dr. Andreas Laupacis, at the Keenan Research Centre, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital, written by Danyaal Raza, family physician in Ottawa goes into more detail regarding ‘the gap for rich and poor is bad for our health.’

In 2012, the Canadian Medical Association released a study showing how self-reported health varies with income level. Then CMA President Dr. John Haggie said, “When it comes to the well-being of Canadians, the old saying that wealth equals health continues to ring true. What is particularly worrisome for Canada’s doctors is that in a nation as prosperous as Canada, the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ appears to be widening.” In 2012, higher income respondents were 29% more likely to describe their health as “excellent” or “very good” than lower-income respondents. In 2009, that difference was only 17%.

I am sure if we were to review a study by the Canadian Medical Association today, as in April 2013, the gap and percentages would be even greater. As a professional who works with older adults/seniors, I hear on a regular basis complaints and dissatisfaction, little to no access to the necessary physician or specialist, long waitlists for routine tests, exams, specialists and surgery, hours spent at a walk-in clinic waiting to obtain a prescription, if one has a GP they are unable to reach said individual by phone the same day and often have to wait weeks or months for an appointment. These complaints are the same for those that are lower-income as higher income except those that have the financial means can always pay privately for an exam or test that would take weeks or months in the public system.

Change is certainly needed. What do you think? What changes would you suggest?

Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW