To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Here is a thoughtful and actually kind of humorous article about assisted suicide.

For me, the frightening bit about assisted suicide is, of course, the possibility that I might change my mind. I see myself sitting in the pizza parlour for that final family meal, surrounded by the beaming faces of my many descendants, their expressions contorted into a finely judged blend of agony and supportiveness.

I see us all holding hands and singing songs and telling old family jokes; and then I become aware of this nagging voice at the back of my head, and the voice cuts through the pain and the despair and says, "I say, hang on a second. Am I really sure about this death option? What about life? Why don't we give that a go - just for another day, hmmm?" But then I look again round the faces that have spent so long coming to terms with my decision or trying to talk me out of it; and I think: can I really back out now? Won't they be irritated?

I realize that this part of what is otherwise a mostly serious article may seem horribly frivolous to people who have gone through bad end-stage illnesses with loved ones. But I think too that sometimes people make snap judgements on issues like assisted suicide without seriously thinking them through. "If I ever get to where I can't take care of myself, just shoot me." Or seeing someone stuck in a hospital bed for years, "I wouldn't want to live like that." Who would? I'd rather be healthy and walking around, of course, given the option. What if that's not an option?

I've heard a lot from old folks about living wills, that you "have" to have one on record or they'll stick tubes in you and do all sorts of things that nobody in their right mind would want. The thing is, sometimes those tubes and respirators and so forth are temporary support systems that a person's body needs so it can heal from sickness or trauma. My 80-something-year-old mother-in-law was desperately ill for a few weeks last year, and she had a feeding tube. It probably saved her life. Once she was well enough to start eating again, the tube came out. To see her now, and compare how she was before that illness, you wouldn't know anything had happened. I hear all that stuff about the living wills and I don't hear people talk about who gets to decide whether a person is end-stage or not. I've also heard that sometimes those old folks who have DNRs actually have to go to the emergency room because they're suddenly taken ill and they tell their doctors, "I want everything! Do everything you can for me!"

So maybe a little whimsical imagining about what it would really be like to face those decisions could be a useful thing.

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