Saturday, August 8, 2009

Facing The Inevitable

This article concerns Sir Terry Pratchett's consideration of ending his own life.

Sir Terry, 61, author of the hugely successful Discworld books, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2007.

He said that no one has a duty to suffer the extremes of terminal illness and set down his admiration for the sick and dying who have travelled to Switzerland to die in legal suicide clinics. They have displayed ' furious sanity', he said.

The article came about because a woman who wants to end her life on her own terms wants to know if her husband will be charged with a crime if he helps her go to Switzerland.

The Lords ruled on Thursday that the Director of Public Prosecutions must give Mrs [Debbie] Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, guidance on whether her husband will face prosecution - and a possible 14-year prison sentence - if he helps her travel to the Dignitas clinic in Zurich to die.

The judgment means the DPP is likely to set down rules which will clear those who do not have selfish motives from the threat of prosecution - a major step towards legalisation.

Powerful stuff.

If I were terminally ill or had some disease that slowly destroyed my mind, would I choose to end my life on my terms or wait for the inevitable end? That's a question I ponder every once in a while. More so since, especially as I and my family grow older, I know there will be a time when my children will have to attend their father's funeral just as I attended mine.

That which seemed so distant and impossible as a teen--death--inches closer carried on the back of cold and callous time. It's a topic that should be discussed and not hidden away to "protect" the children. Death need not be the hardest life lesson we learn.

It's easy for me to answer the question of the choice I would make in the here and now because there is no imminency, no sense of urgency insisting that I decide before my faculties have finally waned or the pain is unbearable. But what would I do when I have to decide? That is, if I have that opportunity.

I find it to be a very personal issue. So much so that I would have great difficulty deciding for someone else even if they made their wishes known beforehand. Regardless of what my decision for me would be, I think it's important that I have a choice. If nothing else, I find that comforting.


Shan said...

Not so shallow tonight, huh?

Not that you've asked, but knowing what someone else wants makes it easier for me to want that for them, too. My brilliant grandfather had not-so-offhandedly commented that he would *never* want to lose his mental faculties... anything but that. So when he died after two years of dementia, I couldn't help but be relieved.

As it turns out, I apparently only feel that way when the intellect is compromised. I had a completely different set of emotions for my equally beloved grandmother, despite knowing that her health problems and strong religious beliefs had made her quite ready to go to heaven for more than a decade. (I realize that makes her sound neurotic, but she didn't come across that way in life).

I have a lot more to say on this, but I haven't organized it that well, so I'll stop here. Thanks for making me think!

Hank Greer said...

Having never been in your situation, I can't relate. I can only imagine. But I'm sure that all changes when faced with it for real. Nevertheless, I'm sure it helps to have discussed it beforehand especially with the person(s) involved.