Roy Slater died August 14, naturally and with dignity.
His life and his death stand in direct contradiction to those who would terminate the lives of people like him.
Slater suffered from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) which was diagnosed in 1981. At the time he was given 15 months to live. He proved the experts wrong, however, living for another 12 years of what his loved-ones remember as a “beautiful life.”
“He certainly fooled everyone, especially the doctors,” says Wendy Slater, his wife of 47 years. “His whole life was a service to other people.”
ALS, often called Lou Gehrig’s disease, causes a deterioration of the muscles and results in paralysis. Mental functions and major internal organs are not affected.
Roy Slater’s first indication of the disease was a weakness of his hands. After the initial diagnosis it “plateaued,” his wife says. It was during this time he was able to do his most effective work to mobilize support for ALS victims and fight against another disease – the so-called “right-to-die movement” and its leader John Hofsess.
“He could never understand the man (Hofsess),” Wendy Slater says. “He couldn’t understand why anyone would want to spend his life wanting to kill people.”
Slater never actually met Sue Rodriguez, a high-profile victim of ALS who is trying to change the criminal code to allow physician-assisted death. But he often told his wife he would have liked to have spoken with her about the solutions to their suffering. He would have liked to have told her there was a better way than ending it themselves.
This was a message he spent his remaining years trying to get across to people suffering terminal illnesses.
“His faith was very important to him,” says Wendy Slater. “He often said when it was time for him to exit it was in God’s hands. I wish for everyone to know that Roy died with dignity – peacefully, with a smile on his face.”
Through his concern about the increased public acceptance of physician assisted suicide, Slater joined the Compassionate Healthcare Network to work with the founder and president, Cheryl Eckstein Sr., against the right-to-die movement. He sent a statement through Eckstein when she made a presentation to a House of Commons Sub-Committee hearing on changing the Criminal Code to allow doctors to help kill their patients.
“I feel very strongly that we must uphold and maintain the current legislation (against assisted-suicide), Slater said. “I believe you can take your own life but not without hurting your family, your spouse, children and colleagues. It is not a solution to our problems not for any other people afflicted with the same illness. Researchers could find a cure and that is the hope of everyone, because they never will know what a day will bring forth.”
Eckstein called Slater “one stubborn fighter.” She said he was “unyielding” in his opposition to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
“Knowing Roy Slater was indeed a profound joy,” she said, “for he had an intense love for life, his life and others.”
Slater was well-known for his cross-Canada tours which he made campaigning for financial assistance and medical support for people with ALS and promoting public awareness of the disease. He was one of the founding members and national chairman of the ALS Society.
He leaves behind his wife, six children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.