Monday, October 24, 2011

On End of Life Options

We skipped this topic on the podcast last week for two reasons: 1) because the segments we had were already long, and 2) because it's kind of depressing. Not to say we can't talk about depressing things on the podcast, but we can blog about them as well.

In our live show a few weeks ago, we discussed the documentary made by the BBC and author Terry Pratchett concerning Pratchett's dealing with Alzheimer's and questions about euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the right to end one's life. Here is the documentary “Choosing to die” of which we spoke. It is also available on youtube with a bit of searching, if this link becomes broken. Also: be warned that they follow a Dignitas client through to the end: it's a powerful moment.

Terry Pratchett - Choosing to die from Lisette Leona on">Vimeo.

and Terry Pratchett's article:

As Pratchett says in the documentary “Who owns your life?”

My feeling is that everybody has and deserves the right to end their life as they see fit, especially in cases of terminal or debilitating illness, but also in cases of- as Dignitas calls it- “weariness of life”. Regardless of your feelings, ethical/ moral stance, religion, the argument boils down to: who has say over whether you can live or die?

Many religious folk say that only their god(s) can make that choice, and if anyone takes a person before they die “naturally”, they are murderers and must be punished, both in this and the next life. But I believe quality of life is more important than quantity, and if a person's quality of life is such that they can no longer accept the conditions, perhaps an exit should be available. It is certain that a person who wants to take their life has no problem finding and employing myriad methodologies; most of these methods are unpleasant, harmful, unreliable, and ultimately undignified. And when the attempts go awry, the person is often in a far worse condition than before. Should we not be allowed the ability to end our lives gracefully?

There is also the option of hospices and palliative care, which effectively drugs people so their last few weeks of life aren't spent in pain. I imagine in many cases this is quite acceptable, but at what point does it not make sense? If a person is drugged to the gills (worst case scenario, I know) the last few days or two weeks or even a month of their lives, how is this a good thing? The drugs may be what effectively kill them anyway. And is dying a “natural” death really a good death? I would submit to you, that most deaths are not good deaths. Allowing a person to starve to death isn't a good death. Waiting for the organs to fail isn't a good death. And then there is the monetary factor of keeping this person alive; yep, there's always money involved, isn't there? Does it make sense to keep a person alive just because it's “bad” to kill them?

Another problem, in that the services to end ones life are not inexpensive- costing thousands of dollars- and thus putting life-terminating services out of the range of many people. Is this good? Possibly. However, all that means is that wealthy people have the “dignified” and “effective” option. And it's the same for hospice and palliative care: most people cannot afford to be put in a home, so they become a burden for their families and loved ones, emotionally, socially, and financially.

And of course, the other issues that would need addressing:

  • people being forced/ coerced to do it

  • people using it to escape something the person didn't want to face (a breakup, firing, bankruptcy, criminal charge)

  • groups/ individuals/ government ridding the population of an another undesirable group (old, poor, sickly, misfits, what have you)

and so on.

So what do you think? Only people with illnesses? Open the flood gates? Don't even think it?

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