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Sunday, October 25, 2009


Hands Across the Seas, Part I


A Friend's Decision to Die with Dignity * October 2009

"The winds that blow-- ask them,
which leaf of the tree

will be next to go"

(translated by Harold Henderson)

As we grow old the circle of friends and acquaintances shrink. Inevitable. We are here for a limited time and sooner or later our time comes. In the last eight years I have lost two childhood friends to cancer. In both cases their suffering was not prolonged. I don't know what they would have done if faced with the decision to go through a long, expensive, and ultimately meaningless series of treatments.

I have strong feeling about 'right to die' and 'death with dignity'. Simply put, I do not believe in an after-life. I accept the "blank certitude of death". If I should happen to be afflicted with terminal illness my decision would be to let the end come without going through lengthy medical procedures, certainly without being kept alive on life support. My children and friends are aware of my position. I have filed the necessary document with my health care provider and hope that there would not be any hitches but one cannot be sure. Some people not only want to cling to life regardless of the state they are in but they also do not wish to allow those who feel differently to opt for final exit.

Only two states -- Oregon and Washington --in our country have enacted laws to permit physician assistance in dying. For the rest of us it is a different situation. Personally, I thought that Dr. Kevorkian did great work until he was imprisoned for assisting terminally ill people to die. We don't have anything like Dignitas, the Swiss organization. So, one has to plan in advance for the eventuality to avoid being a victim of the system, hooked up to life support.

A friend, Sarah M, who lives in Sussex, UK, was recently diagnosed with cancer of the bladder. She has decided to avoid going through the various stages of treatment which could prolong her remaining days. It is a horrible, painful, degrading disease. Sarah is a passionate activist in human rights causes and justice for the Palestinians. Widely traveled, she is a voracious reader, enjoys gardening, pets, and music. While the NHS in Britain does not have provision for pro-active measures to hasten death, one gets the impression that it is less rigid in its position than the American system under pressure of religious and political organizations to which 'euthanasia' is a dirty word.

Neither Sarah nor I believe in prayers. I think of her and hope that palliative medicine would help her to cope as she prepares for her final days in a hospice.

Listening to Glenn Gould, Piano, A State of Wonder, The Complete Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) 1955. Sony Classical Legacy S3K 87703.


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