Death is neither a political nor a religious act. It is, in fact, something all living things must face one day. In our society, birth and new life is celebrated and fêted, death is feared and avoided at all costs. In death, the physical disappears from this world, and when something is no longer experienced with our five physical senses, we fear it ceases to exist at all.
But this piece isn’t about my experiences with those who have passed on. If you haven’t experienced what I have, something beyond the five senses, then you may not believe. It’s not my job to make you accept there is something lingering long after the death of the body. That’s for you, and you alone, to experience. What I’m writing about today is the celebration of life in death, and the right to choose to die with the dignity.
I was looking up statistics, and they are really all over the map. However, it’s quite apparent there is a high number of elderly suicide in our country. Unfortunately, there is a mental health stigma attached to the idea of suicide. Taking one’s own life needn’t be considered a mental health issue when life has become unlivable whether by age or illness. The only mental health issue is the deterioration of happiness ascribed to those forced to live through ill-dignified western medical traditions with white sterile walls, tubes, beeps and doctors and nurses who are compelled to keep us alive even when being alive doesn’t equate to really living.
Our elderly should not have to turn to messy, secretive, abominable acts to die outside of the institution. They should be allowed to pass from this plane with dignity, surrounded by family and friends if they choose; or at least surrounded by compassionate people who understand the needs of those who wish to check out before nature deteriorates them to the point where the physical body becomes nothing more than a jail cell. I am not saying we turn into a nation bent on senicide (killing off our elderly). In fact, we need to be much more reverent of older generations for the wisdom in their years; however, that reverence should extend to giving them the choice to end their life when they are ready.
I know the Hippocratic Oath states, “Nor shall any man’s entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so.” People live longer now, and the human race has gained quite of bit of knowledge since the time of Hippocrates. In general, I’m sure modern western medical doctors find the thought of doctor-assisted-suicide to be a ghastly concept at best; however, when healing isn’t an option, when life can no longer be lived as it is meant to be, the best thing a doctor can prescribe, is an end to the suffering of indignity. Choosing to die with dignity is not a defeat for the medical establishment. We all die, and medicine hasn’t put an end to that yet.
Everyone now knows of Brittany Maynard; the 29-year-old brain cancer patient who moved from California to Oregon, so she could die with dignity rather than endure torturous “treatments” which may have extended her life by mere months. She chose to die with dignity, in a warm, comforting home, in her own bed, surrounded by those who loved her. Her family was forced to spend a great deal of money to ensure Brittany’s wishes for a dignified death.
We need dignity in death in all places; not just a handful of states, and not just for the terminally ill. Our elderly should also be granted the choice when they are ready; when their aging body is no longer functioning in connection with their sound mind. The elders have the wisdom of life under their belts, and they should be allowed to determine their exit strategy if they so choose.
Every single person who lives today will die, but like Mel Gibson as William Wallace says, “…not every man really lives”. Living on my terms (within the structure of a society), I also plan to die on my terms at the time of my choosing… if dragons don’t carry me away before then.