The Right To Die

The Right To Die debate is one I have strong opinions on. Ever since Brittany Maynard decided to end her life to avoid inevitable agony and suffering and watching her discuss this in many interviews, I concluded that the Right To Die law should exist for everyone, everywhere.

There are pitfalls no doubt. I can imagine nightmare scenarios where people are ‘terminated’ by bored relatives who do not wish to take care of them. So obviously safe-guards must be paramount. That said, I am open to the RTD law be expanded to include dementia patients and those with serious Chronic Illness, including long-term-depression.

That’s murder! You may say. And part of the invariable slippery-slope! But I would disagree. Unless you have been the victim of Chronic Illness and/or long-term-incurable-depression you cannot speak for others who suffer each and every day.

A few years ago I killed a kitten who was suffering. It was in agony, unsavable and its liter mates had died in excruciating agony. It was a Sunday and no pet-store nearby was open to euthanize the kitten. To spare her suffering I put her to sleep myself. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, I didn’t actually think I had it in me (to take a life) being vegetarian among other things. But the compassion for her suffering over-took the fear of harm.

The harm was her suffering any longer and that is how I see RTD laws.

Obviously we have to put into place protections against this being misused. I recognize that many deeply devout folks believe God takes us when we are ready, but I have never subscribed to that. How is suffering in agony EVER God ordained? If a God exists I do NOT believe he/she chooses people to suffer in agony for years on end. Thus for me, that argument is moot.

Without the issue of ‘taking God’s job away’ we are left with the morality of RTD laws. If I see someone suffering as horrific as it is, to consider their dying at my or their own hands, I would want to help them not suffer. If that was their true wish.

In the case of dementia patients, if they sign a waiver now they can ask not to be force-fed and kept alive, but it still means those wishes can be ignored, effectively they can exist for years as a vegetable, and do nothing about avoiding that outcome. This isn’t a pragmatic thing. Obviously our society is going to be destroyed by dementia cases as more and more develop it, but irrespective, this isn’t about convenience of death, it’s about the mercy of death.

Few of us (I know some exceptions) would wish to shit on themselves, not be able to eat, remember, function etc, and lose all dignity and awareness. Most of us would prefer to die. Giving us a way to write this out and have a representative help us achieve this, seems to me, a mercy not a convenience.

The whole subject is heart-achiningly awful and we avoid talking about it for the most part. But we need to think of this. Just recently with Covid 19 ventilation, the question of dying and life has been very pertinent and young people who never wrote living-wills have been in limbo. It is never too early to consider these things because we really don’t know.

When I put my cat of 18 years to sleep it haunted me. Briefly I went back on my belief that RTD was the best choice because I thought; If I can’t handle the images and flashbacks of the catheter being put in my cats arm, and watching him being put to sleep, if I felt that was ‘wrong’ in some way, how could I handle it if it was my dad? Or someone I loved?

Truly I think I am nearly not strong enough to cope with that day. But despite that I would still do it. TO END THE SUFFERING. It would haunt me and yes it would feel worse to me than if they died naturally just as it would have been ‘easier’ if my cat had died naturally instead of being given drugs that killed him. Watching that was horrific and it did feel ‘unnatural’ because it was but sometimes it’s the only choice, and it’s the best choice and even if it leaves us feeling horrific, we should consider it.

I don’t regret putting my cat to sleep. But I regret that it had to happen and I still get flash-backs of the last moments. If I had to do that with a human-being I know it would be the hardest thing I ever had to do. But if I loved that human being and it was THEIR WISH I would hope I had the courage and love within me to do it or be part of it or at very least, support their wish.

Having had chronic illness I know we can be ‘not in our right minds’ and so the issue of ‘how sick is too sick?’ must be considered. Depressed people for example, may be able to be cured, so are they really the right candidates for euthanasia? I don’t know the answer, I only know that if someone I knew had suffered for 20 years and wanted to die, I would find it hard to deny them that mercy. If all else had failed.

This is not what we want to think about but right now, out there, are many people who are in this VERY situation right now and have no recourse to end their suffering. I believe safe laws CAN be made that protect against abuses and I believe at this juncture in our societies evolution we need to consider those things, not to keep our sick numbers in check, but to be merciful to suffering.

The courage of Brittany Maynard has stayed with me ever since I heard about her and followed her story. Some may say that is morbid. I say it is honest. I still think of her, she affected me deeply and opened up this debate. I hope others can get over their prejudices of what they believe others should do and give people a CHOICE. Just like my best friend who doesn’t believe she would have an abortion but believes others should have the right to choose if they want to have one. Such is this debate about an individuals right to choose their outcome. Who can honestly deny that in the face of suffering?

I often think if I live to be old, I will be alone and I fear that very much. I think if it were possible I would choose to end my life simply based on not having enough money to keep going or enough reason and family left to make it worthwhile. Is that wrong? Maybe. But one day that too may exist as an ‘option’ and a mercy, to help those who would otherwise resort to suicide which can often fail and leave awful aftermaths. This is a very sad subject but it’s one many of us will one day face one way or another. I don’t want to dwell on it, but equally, I don’t want to pretend it could never happen.

I think now more than ever, we have learned, anything can happen and we need to be prepared. Taking responsibility for our lives AND our deaths is a responsible decision, and helps those who may be left in our lives, follow our true wishes. I hope I never have to find out, but I believe we should all be prepared for both the best case scenario and the worst. Contrary to popular opinion, taking ones life is probably the hardest thing a person can do, not the easiest. But as this article above states, there are worst things than dying and I would say suffering in agony meets that criteria and forces us then, to consider this subject honestly and with compassion.


36 thoughts on “The Right To Die

  1. I’m one of the Dementia patiens who have already told my loved ones that when I reach a point of feeling lost in my own life, I will take my own. My husband is very sad but totally understands. He knows I saw the suffering my granny went thru from the same illness. It’s agony and ugly, it rips your heart out.

  2. It is ugly. It does rip your heart out. I would not wish this for you EVER and yet, I understand where you are coming from and why you feel as you do. I would feel the same way I believe. And yet, it is so very sad and should not be this way. I am hopeful of some type of cure so we do not have to consider this outcome BUT we should have a choice if there becomes no choice. I send you only love and support and am always here if ever you want to talk to need a friend. Always.

  3. This is so poignant and bittersweet and sad . . . I agree 100% with everything you have said. It is unbelievably painful to watch someone suffer, and know that we cannot do anything to help. I watched my sister go through that. Had she been legally able to end her suffering, I know that she would have. And for me, like you when your cat was put to sleep, I think the flashback of that would be almost too much for me to bear. But the image of her suffering is also, and it never leaves. Either one is a ugly outcome. But you are right that it is something we will all eventually have to deal with. I still grasp for hope though. I still believe in miracles. And I hope that this is not something you have to think about for a long, long time. I’m here if you need to talk.

  4. This is good. I’ve thought it about the topic myself. There have been times where I thought, under the right circumstances, of just going into the wilderness and taking a final walk, letting the elements take me (poetic but painful). Legal euthanasia might have financial implications, not in a way that you might initially think. The medical industry and pharmaceutical companies make a ton of money by keeping people alive. Sad as it sounds, our culture is really conformed around making money. That money will produce propaganda to protect itself. I’ve noticed people paying more and more to keep pets alive. I can’t bear it. I suffered for months afterward my cats died. But I KNEW that it was the right choice. Good old Mittens. Society might want to think about those we love, rather than our own comfort. The depressed. Personally, I want there to be a better world for the depressed. It’s hard enough living with the disease, but the way the world treats them and continues on by pushing them aside. Why is that? Depression is a very big presence in this world. I wish more people would be nurturing. We need more safe houses for those who hurt. You have my vote! 🙂

  5. When does suffering become unendurable? I think no one can answer that question for another person. Some will choose to live with excruciating pain that would have another begging for the mercy of an end. As a therapist and crisis counselor, I’ve known clients who I knew, no matter how many times we saved them or stopped them, or attempts failed, would eventually suicide, and having heard their pain and seen its unremitting assault despite all therapy and medication, I could not begrudge them that exit. Still, if they called, it was my job to do all I could that it not be that time. But, was that kind? It runs in the healing professions, that bias to never give up hope for a better outcome.

    My father had dementia. He also had long standing Advance Directives (Living Will) and a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) statement. His care givers did respect those, and I believe they would have even if I, as his proxy with medical power of attorney, had not been there.

    I don’t know what condition or situation would be my limit where I would draw the line of what I would choose to endure. I don’t fear pain or physical limitation nearly so much as I do dementia, that loss of self I have witnessed. Someday, I really must get around to writing that Living Will.

  6. Very well written and I agree with everything you have said here. I think especially the part that none of us can say what is intolerable for another. It is not about strength but what we personally can endure and not endure. For me personally if I lost my eye-sight that would be it and I know that hence why lately that diagnosis really shook me, but equally I would not judge a client who took their life for depression although I would be very sad and probably question whether I could have done more as you say, because it’s our profession. But ultimately as you say, if they want to they find a way. I also think with dementia there should be safe-guards for those who have early stage and still the cognitive function to decide what they want – by way of care or no care going forward and even to euthanasia when life is no longer life. I think they have that right. But I think it is going to be a long time in coming. I think on this subject because of Covid 19 and all those who ended up in hospital on a ventilator who didn’t anticipate it at my young age or younger still – and how we must be mindful of these things no matter how distasteful they are. I hope however, I hope very much, that it will not be an issue for any of us. Maybe that is terribly unrealistic but still I hope. xo

  7. Thank you – for so much but especially for your courage and your beautiful soul where you always try to help others and YOU DO and this with all you have to personally endure. I so admire you and like you as a human being.

  8. Ah everything you said here resonates with me so much! I couldn’t agree more, especially about the safe house idea for those who hurt, a wonderful idea and SO NEEDED. I also agree and wish I had added that in my original write, about the reasons behind why euthanasia would be unpopular among the Pharm and Big Business because as you so rightly say, they profit from our pain. I truly am one of those who believe they both cause disease and know the cure and do not dole it out because they make more money from illness than wellness. I know some of it can be taken in our hands by eating right etc, but many are poisoned by the improper use of medication and then sick for years suffering which all could have been avoided. They also know less than they believe and have the wrong impetus, it should be more about prevention not cure. That said, I also agree that with that much money involved there is NO motivation to change things and this may be the true stymie of the system as opposed to ethical or religious arguments. I do hope as much as our culture is conformed around money that we find a way to end suffering – even if it means euthanasia but I also hope for cures and treatments. As for Depression I agree, ultimately I would love to help those with it far more than accept the only choice is death. If we had more compassion and paid the wrong people less and the right people more we may see that change. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and also your thoughtful and inspirational response I love it xo

  9. Sorry for the sad part. But thank you for reading it. I do truly believe it is important to talk about even as it is sad. I am so very sorry about your sister, I cannot imagine how hard that was for you to witness. You are such a loving, giving person that it must have been soul destroying. She was lucky to have a sister like you. You are so right, the images never leave, no matter what, and that can be hard, but seeing someone in pain is harder still isn’t it? We must deal with it, as a society, but that’s all, we don’t need to dwell or stay there, just make compassionate choices to allow for the end of suffering is how I see it. I hope I never have to think about it truly as unrealistic as that may be I am ultimately an optimist! xo Thank you and for your friendship and your kinship, it means the world to me and you know I don’t say that lightly.

  10. With the reports coming out of even people who showed no symptoms of COVID 19 later having signs of cognitive and other problems, the issue is bound to get more attention. This virus has secrets we are only beginning to discover.

  11. The state I live in (Washington) is a right-to-die state. It’s well-regulated and has protections in place so unscrupulous relatives don’t hasten death … or prevent a desired death. The data shows that not many people exercise the option, but many have much greater peace of mind knowing that it’s available to them. You stated it well.

  12. Death is a taboo subject, and is only gonna have to be discussed more with candidness and the ability to listen (which is often lacking these days). Death is personal and shouldn’t have all of society flinging judgments. It’s a personal choice whether to live or die. Almost two years ago my own dad chose suicide when I was at work (I wrote about it last year). He did so because his body was giving out (reduced airway capacity led to gradual organ failure, COVID-19 would’ve killed him) and there was no cure, no treatment to improve his life or give it back. He felt useless and was full of anger. A man who worked hard all his life was reduced to doing nothing because even changing his clothes would wear him out and leave him breathless. Panic attacks were increasing and his worst nightmare was choking from inability to get air. So he ensured he wouldn’t go out that way. it sucked, but I respected his decision, because he was scared and couldn’t do it anymore.

    I said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t blame someone who has a condition that’s not treatable and not curable and is only going to make them deteriorate further if they choose to take their own way out. They know how much they can take. Robin Williams took his life after his diagnoses, which told him his mind would make him a shell of himself within a few years. Same with Anthony Bourdain.

    We’re going to have to have this discussion more and more, because my theory is that why we’re seeing more Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and other “elderly” diseases of the mind on the rise is because we’re living longer, but the mind is giving out while the body keeps going. it’s gonna be in our faces a lot more often, and needs addressing. Thanks for opening up the discussion. It’s needed.

    Also–I never understood the crowd that thinks suicide is “taking God’s job away!” Does it ever occur to them that maybe it was God’s will that this person take their own way out? The pretzel-like contortions that happen when devotees try to explain God’s will always make me shake my head. It’s like “if you didn’t want to get pregnant, you shouldn’t have had sex.” my response would have to be “maybe that’s why God–if it exists–gave humans the ability to create birth control pills and condoms.”

  13. Oh my friend I could not agree with you more. Firstly, I wanted to say, I missed that about you losing your father to suicide and I am very, very sorry this happened. I admire you greatly for being big enough to see why he chose what he chose because that is HARD with all the pain of it, and I don’t know how I would react in such a situation but I would like to think I could be like you have – you inspire me with your strength. I am sorry you lost your dad this way but as you say, there are reasons for this they are not random and I agree with you as to why we are seeing more deterioration of the mind and the causes behind that as well as why God is not responsible for taking a life or saving a life, so we are given these abilities whether God given or just innate or nothing to do with God, and one is intelligence, to know and decide and choose. I couldn’t have put it better – thank you so much for reading this and your wonderful response I really, really appreciate it and you xo

  14. Exactly – and this is proof it can be done. I so believe it should be wide-spread so that anyone can avail themselves of it if absolutely necessary. Thank you so much for reading this dear Donna and your thoughtful and much appreciated response.

  15. Ah that is so true. I totally agree. I admire you for having such strong beliefs and knowledge so early on. I tried to as well my thing used to be female genital mutilation I remember that was such a big deal when I was going through my program and I really felt strongly about it. xo

  16. Right? That’s the thing – people who are so casual may condemn someone else to a life time of suffering and they could just so easily prevent it but they really show how much they do not care! A virus is what caused my stomach issues so I completely agree – we have no idea how bad viruses can really be, we’re just so unaware but I believe they can often be the cause of all sorts of things

  17. Death is a transition. There is no rule to be found anywhere in nature stipulating when it must happen. It is and always has been a personal choice. To wait or act earlier. A matter of sovereignty. Thanks for such a thought-provoking post Candice.

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