There are nations elsewhere in the world where people can legally and peacefully choose the time and place of their death. In the U.S., beginning with Washington and Oregon and now in a handful of other states too, “right to die” movements have changed the law, but not in most of the country. In this Boomer Opinion piece, Emily Gaffney of Marblehead, Massachusetts, argues that it ought to take hold everywhere because, as she sees it, it’s win-win.
Not all over-the-fence conversations are created equal.
Take for example the one I had recently with Kay, my part-time neighbor from Holland with whom I share an inordinate number of random coincidences. Kay is a tad over 60, and I just turned 60. Kay’s birthday is June 25th and Mom’s birthday is June 25th. Kay had a 92-year-old mother, and I have a 92-year-old mother. Kay has grown-children-navigating-life, and I have grown-children-navigating-life. There is no shortage of conversation topics between Kay and me when we are both toiling in our gardens. We keep up.
When Kay shared that her 92-year-old mother had recently passed, I couldn’t help but think of my own mother (our similarities being what they are and all). I’ve come to a point in my personal caregiving journey where the details of others parents’ deaths matter to me. Hearing their play-by-play accounts helps me anticipate what could happen to Mom, minimizing my chances of being surprised and/or unprepared. My hope is that by the time it happens, I will have heard it all.
Kay is an open woman with a sensitive heart. She understands that my interest in her mother’s passing is not borne from idle curiosity or a need for gossip. She understands that I seek to glean something useful and important to store in my mind for my own mother’s eventual end. So, thankfully, she shares.
The most important detail I heard in our conversation is one that will never apply (at least not legally) to Mom’s demise. Kay’s mother chose to die. Of sound mind and failing body, she informed her four daughters of her decision to end her life, and was able to ask them to be present and to be a part of her final moments. A brilliant end-of-life option that we just don’t have in most parts of the U.S.
Though I’m not sure to what end, I wanted– and needed– more detail. Kay’s mother’s death by her doctor’s hand sounded so normal… so compassionate… so reasonable… so civilized… so interesting. I did a quick moral and legal inventory around euthanasia and quickly dismissed the “life-is-precious” and “don’t-play-God” arguments that I’m sure have kept this practice largely at bay in the U.S.
Paradoxically, death by assisted suicide feels to me like a classic win/win for everyone. Kay’s mother was tired and physically weak. On this earth for almost a century, she’d lived a full and satisfying life. Of sound mind and with great dignity, she got to choose her moment and method. Surely, that’s a win.
Kay and her siblings were unquestionably sad, but also honored and grateful to be present for such an important and meaningful moment in their mother’s life. Kay described her “relief” at knowing that her mother’s suffering was over, that her final wishes were realized, and that there was no room for sibling misunderstanding or discord. I’d call this a win as well.
Perhaps it’s time for a change.