Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Very Personal Choice

Like most people, I have very ambivalent feelings on the topic of euthanasia.  I have watched as people suffered needlessly and wished privately that I might have done something merciful to put them out of their misery. On the other hand, my experiences have also taught me that quality of life cannot be measured arbitrarily across the board by any one person since everyone has their own criteria as to what constitutes quality.
So it was with great anticipation that I recently attended a lecture on the topic of euthanasia given by a well-known author and ethicist, a staunch opponent of euthanasia. Fair enough.  I went with an open mind and I found what she had to say riveting and thought-provoking. I was disappointed, however, at her inflexible attitude during the Q and A that followed. What I had hoped for was dialogue. What I got instead, was dogma.
All good and fine for someone who is healthy to take an anti-euthanasia stand. But for an elder who might be tired of a long and lonely existence, someone who knows he or she is ill beyond repair and is suffering both physically and emotionally, it might seem like an answer to their prayers.
One of the problems, or so said the lady giving the lecture, is our collective inability to have  meaningful "death talks" on a regular basis as we used to do when we were more religious. With religion seemingly no longer playing pivotal roles in our lives, we have lost both the venues and the traditions that made our impending demise a normal part of living. Death has thus become a very frightening topic.
As well, we have a habit of hiding our frail elderly in hospitals and institutions rather than keeping them at home as previous generations did,  further restricting our daily contact with those in our circle preparing to make their exit. It does not bode well for any of us that we continue to encourage staying youthful at all costs over....pardon me for the obvious....aging gracefully and thereby accepting our eventual demise and even preparing for it.
Personally, I believe very strongly that I have the right to choose the manner of my own exit. Though I am not saying that I would want, necessarily, to be euthanized, and by that I mean having a doctor administer a lethal dose of something,  I would like to think that in the case of great and prolonged suffering, it might be an alternative offered to me.
As I write this, a woman in my neighbourhood is making sure her very old, blind, incontinent and arthritic dog is getting one last hug before being put to sleep. She took her faithful companion to the country over the weekend so he could have one last sniff in the woods, lie in the sun and listen to the lake water lapping on the shore while she gently stroked him.
While I appreciate that one cannot compare a person to a pet,  I think there are instances where animals get shown more mercy than people.