Everyone who knows me well enough knows that I hope I live to a ripe, old, healthy, mentally alert age... and that if that happens not to be my fate, I want to go when it’s time, not linger on in a state that isn’t the sort of life I’ll enjoy having. If you can give me six more months out and about, please do. But if it’ll only be six more months confined to a hospital bed, alive but unable to live, then no, please do not.
So I found this recent New York Times article, “A Heartfelt Appeal for a Graceful Exit”, interesting.
After reading the Personal Health column on Nov. 27 on preventing geriatric suicide, Gloria C. Phares, a 93-year-old retired teacher in Missouri, wrote:
“I was healthy until 90, and then Boom! Atrial fibrillation; deaf, can’t enjoy music or hear a voice unless 10 inches from my ear; fell, fractured my thigh and am now a cripple; had a slight stroke the day after my beloved husband died after 61 years of marriage.
“I’ve lived a happy life, but from here on out it’s all downhill. Is there any point in my living any longer? I’m not living — just existing. I very much want to die, but our society doesn’t let me. Oh for a pill to ease myself out and end my pain, pain, pain.”
Modern medicine can keep people alive into their 9th and 10th decades, when in years past they would have succumbed to any number of conditions. Now a small but growing number of these people are asking why. What is the point of living so long if you can no longer enjoy living? What is the point of living until your mind turns to marshmallow and you are reduced to an existence that is less than human?
Assisted suicide raises troubling ethical questions, which is why the laws in Oregon and the Netherlands are filled with safeguards to prevent its indiscriminate use. But Mrs. Phares’s question is troubling, too, and it cannot be lightly dismissed.
Read the whole article, and consider it. Consider that we readily help our pets end their suffering existences, and yet we mostly shy away from extending the same comfort to ourselves and our families and friends.
I agree completely with the article’s author, Jane Brody, and I share her hope, for myself:
I for one have made my wishes clear to my family. When the tortures of a continued existence with no hope of recovery outweigh the benefits of maintaining that existence, I want out. And I hope that those who love me will find a way to make that happen.