Assisted-suicide/euthanasia does not deserve accolades. Our understanding and discussion of death with dignity would be anathema and blasphemous to the people of the Third World whose idea of a death with dignity is one that ends naturally without the intervention of machete or machine gun, or death to ones’ children from preventable diseases. We refer to these countries as “developing” while we think of ourselves as the developed world. Well, we have developed.
We are a society bloated with abundance and self-worth. We’re self-centred and self-indulgent. It’s all about me; my needs, my wants, my desires; a mean-spiritedness that excludes the feelings and emotions of others. I remember reading not too long ago a definition of today’s society. It is the “i” generation-ipad, ipod, iphone, iwant.
There was a time when death with dignity described families and friends waiting at the bedside; reminiscing, praying, talking, touching; knowing that the end was near. I have witnessed death with dignity. As a chaplain I have had the honour and blessing of bearing witness to families saying goodbye.
Suffering was never associated with the anticipation of death; the fear of dying, fear of pain, of losing one’s mental or physical capabilities. Suffering was connected to death itself. Its finality. The one dying knew she would no longer see her loved ones, share in their joy and sorrow, love them. And those who would be left behind knew that the time was fast approaching when they would no longer be able to see, hear or touch their loved ones. There was between the one dying and those who would be left behind a mutuality of respect, love, honour, courage and loss.
Not too long ago, before anesthetic, pain killers, antibiotics, people fought to stay alive, knowing what was facing them, because for them life was worth the fight. Pain and suffering were worthy opponents. Life, ones’ own and loved ones, had value.
What has happened to us that we deem it normal to enter into discussions about assisted-suicide and euthanasia in our world of luxury? Have we become so entitled, so soft, and weak-willed, so whiny and petulant that we cannot even bear the thought of future possible pain that we choose a lethal injection in expectation? Have we come to a place in time that leaving the ones who love us, need us, are not as important as our “dignity”? Have we become that self-serving?
What lessons are we teaching our children? I watched a programme where a mother with cancer decided to end her life before she suffered too much pain, leaving her eight year old son and husband behind. She had a good-bye party with friends and family. She danced and sang before she drank of the elixir. It was a happy time. She is considered brave. Really? I wonder how her son truly felt. His mother was leaving him. He was eight years old. How will that affect his sense of abandonment and self-worth?
And then there was the story of Gloria Taylor. She was discussing her decision to kill herself with her son and granddaughter. I watched her son cry at the thought of his mother dying, leaving him and his daughter. I listened to her explain her decision to take her own life to her granddaughter. My first thought was: “Who in their right mind takes their own life?” How do we square the idea that we are aghast at suicide, a sign of mental illness, but we encourage assisted-suicide and euthanasia?
Why do we elevate these people onto a pedestal? Why do we applaud their fear of future pain over unselfish love of family? Are they not, like so many others who choose early death, teaching their families to run from fear or even more importantly, to fear pain and suffering that come with living?
There is in this desire to end one’s life from fear of what might be a diminishing of all life. As a society agreeing to legally assist in ending a life, we demean others who came before us who struggled each day to live in less than optimum conditions, to raise a family, to contribute to society. And to those who we leave behind, we teach cowardice. There is no greater cowardice than taking ones’ own life in fear of what might be, leaving grieving family behind. Assisted -suicide/euthanasia is not deserving of accolades but, rather, of the white feather.