Posts Tagged ‘dignitas’

Dying greener and talking about euthanasia

Hey! Let’s talk about death. There are lots of posts about how to green your funeral, from cardboard caskets to fancy machines that break down human bodies into something you can safely pour down the drain. (Lost the link to that one, but trust me, it was cool.) I have no objections to greening our leavings, but I’d like to start with this simple statement: being alive is a high impact activity — higher impact than the one time expenditures of a velvet lined casket and oodles of imported flowers.

As a citizen of the developed world, I’m likely to live to my late 70s, and given my gender, probably a little longer than that. Even without kids, that’s a high impact on the planet for almost eight decades. Not just that, I’ve seen what it looks like to outlive your health, happiness, and mind, and the prospect terrifies me. My grandfather: dead at age 102 after twenty years (!) of worsening health, mind, and temper. My great aunt: a victim of Alzheimer’s so severe that she could no longer carry on a conversation. My neighbor: 94 years old, housebound, wondering why she’s still alive.

No, thank you. I’d rather my life ended with a definitive period than a long series of ellipses. I’d like to die before I become a burden on anyone else, before I get so cranky that even the cat won’t put up with me. I’d like a dignified, tidy end in which I get to turn off the lights and lock the door behind me. And in this country, it’s very unlikely to happen.

I’m talking about euthanasia options for the elderly who no longer enjoy their lives and have no prospect of ever doing so again. We offer our suffering, aging animal companions a quick and relatively painless death, yet don’t have that option for ourselves. I’ve had to put exactly one animal to sleep, and it took so much out of me that I was a mess for months afterward, but what haunted me was not having to do it, but knowing when to do it. How can you gauge whether a cat still has any quality of life? I think I’d have far less trouble knowing when I’d had enough.

I wouldn’t expect or want anyone to end a life for environmental concerns, but since we do seem to be facing a future of increasingly scarce resources, it would make sense to offer a way out of a prolonged and unhappy death, or at least have a rational and open conversation about euthanasia. Whenever overpopulation comes up, it’s almost inevitable that someone will bring up the downside of a lower birth rate: a society disproportionately made up of older people.  Japan and Taiwan are already experiencing some of these issues. However, they’re worth finding solutions for, because an ever-growing human pyramid scheme population really isn’t the solution. I’d take an aging population over a dead planet any day. Could legalizing euthanasia in more countries and under more circumstances be a small part of using our resources better as a society? Maybe.

I am not religious, romantic, or sentimental. I do not believe in souls or consider life a holy gift; I think quality of life is as or more important than life. And speaking just for myself, I wouldn’t want to use up resources on a life I was no longer able to enjoy. Actually, let me just be selfish and say that I don’t want to live a life that isn’t enjoyable, and I’d rather not muck things up trying to end my life with oleander leaves filched from the nursing home garden.

Given the frenzy over ‘death panels,’ I doubt this is a national conversation we’ll be able to have any time soon. But it will be interesting to see if resource pressures force us to revise some of our attitudes about death or just polarize us further into secular/religious camps.

What are your thoughts on euthanasia and dying greener?

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