Friday, February 08, 2008


When it's past time

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.


Maggie said...

I had read this article too, and it made me think that there is a value to suffering -- it helps us accept death. I think the chances are that the end of my life won't be pleasant. Once you've reached that stage and the realization that it is more of the same (or worse) until death, then it would be nice (and less expensive) to exit with dignity and less pain. I understand there are differences in medical care in the Netherlands and here, that doctors have a long-term relationship with their patients, and this helps them assess a request for euthanasia.

Anonymous said...

I read that story yesterday, too, and thought about my mother. She has the opposite point of view, and as my grandma lay dying of Alzheimer's, the agonized, ragged breathing point lasted almost three days (the Alzheimer's ride lasted many more miserable years). An injection there at the end would have been merficul for all concerned except my mother, who is opposed to this for religious reasons. She sees it as an utterly black-and-white issue. She even lets her pets live well beyond the point of comfort.

I often think about when her end comes, how difficult it will be knowing that she *wants* that suffering. I see no point to it, but will have to respect her wishes.

This is what I hate about religion. The "faith is everything" dogma can sometimes crowd out reason, and not just crowd it out, but actively reject it. It's just not the way I want to live my life.

Anonymous said...

I read this article and I have to say that my grandfather was in a coma the last month of his life. The doctor assured us that he was in no pain, but we knew it was not how he wanted to live. He lived to talk and eat. They were the most important things to him, besides family, of course. Taking him off the respirator was the best thing we could do for him. You have to be totally honest with your family and tell them exactly what you want them to do. Write a living will,if you have to, to be sure that they will follow your wishes. Talk about it while you are well and when the end comes, hopefully your family will do what is right for you! We knew he was at peace with this decision and so were we!!