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.
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.