It’s long overdue. We’re hearing about people who want to die on their own terms. Ezekiel Emmanuel’s article, Why I Hope To Die At 75, should be required reading for everyone.
I get totally frustrated when I read (or hear) people say, “Medically-assisted dying is selfish.” The survivors are the ones who are selfish. They’re asking their “loved one” to hang around long enough to be stuck in a nursing home, where it’s not considered abuse to tie someone to a chair in diapers in front of a television set. Even if they visit every day for an hour, which is extremely rare, they’re asking the relative to put up with 23 hours of misery so they can have a single hour, not to mention the “feel good” emotions of saying, “My mom…” or, “My dad…”
We also forget that more and more of us are single and living alone. We’re used to solitude. We’re not used to sharing. Just adding a caretaker to our lives removes all possibility of a decent quality of life.
Emmanuel’s article gets it right. The people who chug along into their 90s are outliers. Getting pneumonia is a blessing. The idea is to die before you become disabled.
Ironically, if we knew we could pull the plug anytime on demand, many of us would choose medical procedures that prolong life
The decision to die is a matter of values, not mental illness.
When conversations get difficult, or patients don’t do as they’re told, all too often the medical doctors turn to “psych consults.” A friend who’s married to a psychiatrist told me the hospital now tells “mental health professionals” to find patients incompetent when their decisions go against the hospital’s bottom line.
Psychiatrists can assess physiological components of mental illness; psychologists and some psychiatrists can help people change their thinking and behavior to become happier and enjoy smoother lives.
But what if your only option is living in “assisted care” with minimum-wage uncaring attendants, where you can be tied to a wheel chair in diapers and placed in front of a television for hours at a time, with tasteless food and frequent needle pricks for tests that don’t affect your longevity or well-being?
That’s the common nursing home experience and it doesn’t take a psychologist to see that a wish to die is completely rational.
A professional who diagnoses depression in this circumstance should be tied to a chair in front of a television set tuned to soap operas, wearing diapers, for at least 4 hours. Don’t tell him when you’ll be back. If he complains, say patronizingly, “Oh, are we feeling upset today?” and tell him he can’t have dessert after lunch. Throw in a few needle sticks and see how he feels at the end of the day.
In this article, Addressing Capacity, Dr. Mark Lachs notes that 40-50% of people over 85% have some form of cognitive impairment.
In one example, a woman refuses to admit caretakers to her home. “What if there’s a fire?” she’s asked.
If she says, “I’m willing to take the risk,” she may just not be aware of what’s going on.
If she says, “I’ve lived a long life and I am willing to take that chance to maintain my privacy and independence. I can wear a life alert pendant.”
Dr. Lachs notes that people have the right to make that choice. I wish more doctors did.