Tom Durkin multimedia writer-editor-photographer
© Tom Durkin 1998-2017

Mortal coil shuffle

Blessings on the caregivers in assisted living, long-term care, and ultimately, the tender refuge of hospice. These people and the organizations they work for provide a wonderful service for people who are dying what doctors call a natural death. But a natural death is not for everybody. While it is true some people die peacefully in their sleep or just drop dead, all too often, a natural death is a painful, prolonged process involving increasing physical and psychological deterioration, loss of bodily functions, and total forfeiture of your personal dignity. A natural death often involves seeing the faces of your friends and family wracked with the pain of conflicted emotions and obligations as they suffer along with you. A natural death often means spending all your money, and possibly that of your loved ones, on medical expenses necessary to keep you alive as long and as comfortable as possible until you are sick enough to refuse life support or have it removed. This is when hospice can assist in limiting the duration of suffering. And if your sole concern, or the concerns of your loved ones, is to keep you alive as long as humanly (or financially) possible by any means necessary regardless of the cost and agony, then you may have an unnaturally prolonged natural death. Finally, if you want to be surrounded by people watching you as you die, a natural death is for you. IF, however, the process of a long-term natural death sounds like hell on earth, there is an alternative: suicide. Polite, proper people prefer call it by its euphemisms – aid-in-dying, physician-assisted-death, euthanasia … Some good-hearted people have introduced legislation in California that would allow terminally ill patients to beg for their deaths. This legislation involves a whole lot indignity, paperwork, and no doubt fees, to petition a "death panel" to receive the permission and the means put yourself out of your misery. Ever notice how many people just skip the paperwork? A few years ago, The Union ran a piece on a terminally ill man who simply walked into his garden one afternoon and shot himself, so as not to mess up the house or distress his wife. Although she knew he was going do it, he just didn't tell her when. As much as she loved him, she accepted his right to make his own decision. You don't need state-sanctioned permission to kill yourself. You just need the motivation and the method(s). And the guts. It's not easy to kill yourself, either psychologically or physically. That's why many people fail at suicide. They lacked the will and/or the way. That's why you might need a physician to give you the peaceful, unconscious death you want. Or you could just look up on the Internet how to off yourself painlessly and gracefully. Done right, it could even look "natural," but that often requires help. If people who love you help you commit suicide, the trick is to not let anybody get implicated in your "murder." Which brings me back to the point: Not all of us want our loved ones standing around watching us die. I personally don't want the last, and perhaps most lasting memory, people have of me is me dying. To me, dying is a very personal, private thing. Not all of us want an expensive, lingering, humiliating, drugged-out death. Not all of us want our friends and family agonizing along with us over how long it's taking us to die. Not all of us want to spend our grandchildren's college education for the sake of eking a few more months of low- quality "life." Some of us just want to die peacefully and alone in our own time, for our own reasons, and in our own way. Without government permission or interference.  * * * I know I'll get hate mail, maybe even some death threats, on this, but please remember: This is not an attack on end-of-life care. It's the right thing for a lot of people. I'm just saying there's an alternative for a lot of other people. In an earlier draft of this piece, several people were upset that I criticized end-of-life care. They had glowing things to say about hospice care – but almost to a man and a woman, they said they personally had no intention of going out naturally themselves. What's that tell you? Tom Durkin -2/12/15
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