Pratchett, the author of the Discworld novels, has been diagnosed himself with Alzheimer’s Disease. Said Pratchett, “I believe everybody possessed of a debilitating and incurable disease should be allowed to pick the hour of their death.”
I can’t disagree with that.
My dad and I have had discussions on the subject of the end of life.
“What does it say about our society that we treat our pets with more dignity at the end of their lives than we treat our elderly? What does it say about our priorities that we make sure our pets have a better quality of life at the end than our parents and grandparents do?” That was my question, and I didn’t expect my dad to have the answers. There aren’t any. Who has the right to decide?
Years ago, when I worked for EB Games in North Carolina, I remember one particular night I went to the Quiznos a few doors down from the store, ordered a sandwich (might’ve been the Honey Bacon Club, now that I think about it), picked up a copy of the local free weekly (the Independent), and read an article about a local documentary on assisted suicide. This article. The article made an impression upon me, eight years ago, that I could remember it vividly enough that I found it with a single Google search.
The subject matter interests me.
Why is it that we let people suffer at the end of life? Being alive is not the same thing as having life.
I can see the religious argument against letting people die with dignity, on their own terms, at the time and place of their own choosing — Suffering in this life is preparation for bliss in the next. Or, ending life is god’s prerogative, not man’s.
I don’t find those convincing arguments. Not because as an atheist, I reject the entire premise of the argument (ie., the existence of a god), but because I find the arguments immoral. If you presume the existence of a god or gods, why would it allow, even encourage such pointless suffering? Wasting illnesses, like dementia, that leave a shell of body that clings to life for years is utter pointlessness. Worse, it’s cruel and capricious, and I cannot imagine how any god would condemn a person for their compassion in helping another find peace.
I doubt that Pratchett’s documentary on assisted suicide will air in the United States. I may have to use other means to acquire the program this summer. I expect it to be moving. I expect it to be emotionally painful. And I expect it to be informative and educational about a subject that, with modern medicine and very long lifetimes, more and more people will be confronting head-on in the decades to come.