I’ve been fortunate in my life to have been able to know and love both grandparents on both sides of the family. For the first 20 or so years of me walking around on this earth, all my grandparents were alive, and for the most part, well. This afforded me time to get to know them and their extended network of friends. I was able to learn about their lives, their struggles, their joys and develop a sense of life. Even now, I still feel like a child in comparison to what they overcame just to exist.
This education on life also included death and decay. Something we will all face either alone, or if we are fortunate, with loved ones by our side. For whatever reason, as a young child and early adult, I felt an obligation to “take care” of not only my grandparents but the elderly in general. I don’t know why. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to the realization that young assholes just turn into old assholes and aren’t necessarily deserving of “care” just because they haven’t succumbed to disease or a deadly accident. Asshole or not though, the elderly and those who can’t care for themselves should be taken care of just as much as a newborn baby deserves to be nurtured and protected. It is just humane.
So what is humane? For me, humane is making every effort possible to preserve a livable life and when that is no longer possible, easing that life into death.
“Death with dignity” has been making the rounds lately. The last time I remember this amount of press surrounding medically ending a life was during Kevorkian’s tenure back in the late nineties. Both sides of the argument, including those based in faith and based in the secular, have valid points. On the one hand, how is it our place to determine God’s will with our life? He determined when and how we were brought into this world. Shouldn’t God be the only one to determine when we leave? Aren’t medical professionals here to do no harm and preserve life as long as possible?
On the flip side, didn’t God impart free will into our lives and give us all the freedom to choose how to live (and die)? Isn’t it a blessing to let our suffering end on earth and join God? Are medical professionals doing more harm than good in stringing along a failing body simply to delay the inevitable onset of grief and loss?
Whenever this assisted death discussion comes around, I always think about all the various pets I’ve had in my life. Countless dogs, cats, lizards, snakes, ferrets, rabbits, turtles… you get the idea. Anyhow, I think about how those pet’s lives were brought to an end. Some were “natural”. They just died. Others died as a result of an accident or other unknown event. Yet others (some of our most loved ones) were taken to a medical professional and very peacefully put “down”. There was no hope for recovery. Their bodies had worn out and they were in extreme, saddening pain. As they had no voice, we were their voice and eased them into death. Humanely.
If, as a society, we treat a dog or cat with such dignity, why have a human we have a much larger investment with, suffer? And yes, I know I’m comparing pets to humans. Don’t get your undies in a twist. It’s just an observation.
That which is so universal as death must be a benefit.
Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller