Death with dignity

It took a long time to legalize marijuana for non-medical use in Massachusetts. It’s taking even longer to overcome the NIMBY response to applications for retail space. The wheels of progress chug along at an excruciatingly slow pace, and if we have to wait a little longer to be able to pick up a joint when we go out to buy a bottle of wine, so be it. We’ll live. But when the very issue is one of life or death, we can’t afford to wait any longer.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide has become a leading cause of death in this country; it’s number 2 among young folk and number 4 among 35 to 54-year-olds. It drops to number 8 for those who are 55+. Are older people less impulsive, less depressed, or does it just become harder to find the means to take your own life past a certain age? I’m going to hazard a guess that if it was easier to do, more terminally ill people would, but in those situations, should it be considered suicide?

Only six states (and DC) currently have right to die, or death with dignity laws. If you have the resources you can move to one of those states, establish residency, and take advantage of the statutes. If not, and you don’t have the wherewithal, practically or emotionally, to end your own suffering, you have no choice but to institute a DNR and hope it is respected.

death with dignity

My Aunt Pearle was fortunate to live in California. When she was diagnosed with her third or fourth cancer, in her 80s, she decided she’d had enough. She knew how treatment would affect her and decided that the price for a little more time was too high. Pearle decided to end her life on her terms, at a time and place of her choosing.

While California gave her that right, there were stipulations. The Hemlock Society of San Diego explains what those are: The state requires three requests, two oral and one written, signed by two witnesses. You must be able to swallow a pill (or pills), because that’s the only legal way to go, and before you take the drug(s) you need to sign a final consent form. And it’s not enough for your personal physician to write the prescription, a consulting physician needs to sign off as well. That’s a lot to ask of a person with a terminal illness. But with the help of her husband, Pearle was able to achieve her desired end.

My aunt was the first person I knew who chose to die with dignity. It was hard to process the news that her death had been scheduled for a particular date and time. As said time approached, I was acutely aware that she would shortly cease to exist, and when the time came and went, I felt uneasy. I was sad, of course, but knowing that it was her choice made it less upsetting and more existential.

Years ago, my cousin, Linda, took her own life in a horrible, ugly fashion, often the only way out for a person who doesn’t have access to pharmaceuticals that might do the job. She was depressed, likely angry, and clearly without hope. She was not, however, terminally ill. What she did was commit suicide. What Pearle did was choose to end her own life, with dignity.

It doesn’t take a very active imagination to picture the difference between a protracted illness guaranteed to end in death, and a peaceful departure at the time you choose. I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t ensure that everyone could make that choice. The Death with Dignity organization tells us that once terminally ill people receive the means with which to end their life, “Some people (about 1 in 3) never take the medication. Simply knowing they have this option, if they need it, gives them comfort.”

If you live in Massachusetts, you can make an appointment to drive out to Leicester or Northampton to buy legal weed. You can then ingest it in the comfort of your own home and think about how fundamental the right to choose is under any circumstance. But you don’t have to get high to appreciate that the right to death with dignity is just another choice that every individual should be able to make for themselves.

Visit here for a list of organizations to help you explore this issue more deeply.

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4 responses to “Death with dignity

  1. sorry…I saw that something got cut from my original post. Can you delete that and use this one, if you want to use anything? thank: GOOD FOR YOU JUDY! I am a HUGE proponent for Death with Dignity. The data is staggering — some huge percentage of Health Care costs for those over the age of 75 is spent in the last year of life, and I think 90% of this is in the last week!!! Because we met late in life, part of my courtship with Mark was to make sure we were on the same page about DwD. He agreed with me that opiates should be completely legal and easily available for those old enough to get Social Security. One of our more humorous stories was that he was envious of my DNR Bracelet. So, for his 71st Birthday, I got him one! Probably not my most romantic gift, but he enjoyed telling the story. Another thing — I found out was that Switzerland is the only place you can go that offers legal Euthanasia (for terminal ailments, including Alzheimer’s) for people who are not residents. We joked about that a lot, too, because he knew how much I dreaded having to live out my life with one of these horrible, debilitating, high maintenance, bankruptcy-producing diseases. “Get me a ticket to Switzerland” was a frequent quip when we felt even a head cold. While his recent death from heart failure came as a total shock to all of us — he had just finished a demanding run for office and we finally got married just 6 days before he passed — as the dust has settled, I’ve become grateful that he went the way we both wanted (except I’d prefer to avoid the flu!) — sudden and unexpected. While the EMTs worked on him for over an hour, and I was terribly upset about things I could have possibly done to have saved a few minutes here or there — my daughter reminded me that, had they been able to resuscitate him, he probably would have had brain damage and/or been in a wheelchair the rest of his life, something I knew he did NOT want! I have done a few blog entries on DwD, and some a bit darkly humorous… like how a Mexican Drug Lord could go mainstream — by opening some DwD centers in Mexico, offering “assisted living with a humane end” (i.e. heroin overdose, which must be pleasant, or nobody would get addicted in the first place!). All this in a pleasant climate for a LOT less than what it costs in the US! This was written before the Wall debate became so Yuge. But, considering the “silver Tsunami” of aging baby boomers, perhaps this could reverse the flood of “asylum seekers”…. If you are interested, here’s a link: https://cclemens.typepad.com/my_weblog/2013/05/mexico-dwd-retirement-centers-a-solution-for-multiple-problems.html

    • I read your old post and loved it. Then I saw that I’d commented on it at the time. You are a very clever lady. Perhaps it’s time for you to run for office.

  2. haha… I’d rather go to Switzerland! 😉

  3. Condolences. And I’m glad she was able to choose the time and manner of her leaving.

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