The right to die with some degree of dignity and the ability to choose one’s own timing has definitely given some people a feeling of independence. Terminal illnesses are not just undignified and painful; they are expensive and very difficult for all members of the family involved sometimes. My friend Jan had her husband in their home up until the last few days of his life. She watched him, bathed him, cleaned him, and loved him while he suffered the miseries of cancer from Agent Orange. Then in the last week of his life, she let Hospice keep him in their facility where they could administer morpheme by injections.
In at least two states people have the right to die by administering to themselves the drugs that will stop their lives quietly and quickly if they have a terminal illness and have six months or less to live—an opinion that has to be shared by at least two physicians. The person has to ask more than once for this particular final medication—twice verbally and twice in writing over a period of time. The main point to this particular set of rules was that the person who chose to die must do so by his or her own hand, must be consciously asking for the right, and must have sufficient medical reason to do so.
Recently a financial advisor gave someone advice that was startling to me: One does not have to allow antibiotics to be given for pneumonia or any other infection in an elderly person who has dementia or who is otherwise non-responsive. That idea just about shocked my socks off. When does a family member decide that an elderly parent or other member of the family has lived long enough? This is not the same thing as giving someone a choice of how to die. This idea is choosing to get someone out of the way for whatever reason. We are not gods and have no idea how to value life inside the mind of a person who can no longer communicate.
I can understand wanting to die. We have all seen those who have become vegetables for whatever reason—wrecks from drugs to wrecks in vehicles. I probably won’t ever jump a horse again and endanger my neck that way, but a good rear-end collision can do enough damage to totally ruin the physical aspects of real life and living. And let’s face it: the physical definitely affects the mental outlook. I cannot keep from wondering if one’s physical inability to live life in a somewhat normal manner might be the sole factor in producing the desire to end life. But the main point I think we need to consider might be one of WHO should be making choices.
I have known of doctors who chose not to treat newborns with the drastic means necessary to save their lives. Whether the reasons were the expense, the complications that the child would continue to have in life, or some other reason, the choices made by the doctors may seem quite callous to the parents. The same can be said for some nursing homes and facilities that care for the disabled. If they choose to ignore symptoms, people can die much more quickly than if they are monitored and treated as the need arises.
Pain is not dignified. In fact, it makes mewling infants of some of us. But if the pain can be alleviated or reduced to an acceptable level for the individual, why should we choose to end life? I have seen an old woman smile in her sleep when her grandchildren were in the room. Who is to say that happiness is not in the noises one hears in our sleep? Give us time and we may have more smiles, more dreams. I can still ride the wind in my dreams when my legs would no longer help me balance on the back of a horse. Let me ride in my dreams until the horses no longer run.