Why are we so obsessed with staying alive, no matter how much it hurts?
I see these commercials on TV for prescription medications that show the happiest people doing the most wholesome activities while a cheerful monotone voice describes the chance of bowel incontinence, bleeding mouth sores, seizures, risk of infection, organ impairment, and crawling sensations on your skin. Really?
What is an acceptable quality of life?
Is it simply not dying, even with the incontinent skin crawling?
As we age, our bodies start to wear out. I remember when I was 11 or so and first learned that before modern medical care, the average life expectancy was between 40-50. In the 1920s it reached the early 60s. Now we are living into our 80s. And mostly that is amazing, but sometimes I wonder about the quality of our lives.
Most of the practice I have had with death has been with beloved dogs. As they get into their senior years, I see them slow down, sometimes go deaf and lose their hearing, and spend even more time napping. And there have been some that need to go so suddenly it shocks me, and they don't have the time to go deaf.
The crux of the matter is that I watch them so closely for pain, for joy, for when the burden of being alive outweighs the enjoyment in life. And helping them go, putting them down as it is said, is both societally acceptable and thought of as merciful. A gift. But when it comes to ourselves and our human loved ones, we run into all of this confusion, emotional attachment, and moral dithering.
How have we gotten so confused about death? Is it because we are so sheltered from it? It used to be that the deceased's loved ones would wash and lay out their body in their home (often on the dining table) for people to come and say goodbye to. It was a days-long process. It gave the grieving time to get used to the reality that there would be a person missing from their lives. The Civil War changed that because so many people died far from home and could not be tended to by their families.
And now here we are in 2021 with the details of death mostly hidden away in hospitals, hospice centers, and funeral homes.
It is natural to be fearful of the unknown, and that is what death has become. It is obviously still happening, but most of us are seeing it much later in life, and feel unprepared for it.
On top of that, we are being aggressively sold life. Media tells us that adventure, new experiences, new new new things are the best. Fight aging, have plump smooth skin for longer than is natural, and never have yellow teeth.
I hope I get quality instead of quantity out of life. I would rather have a shorter life of good years with my body and brain than a long life with the last decade being miserable. I heard someone call it healthspan instead of lifespan. I like that idea.
I am not denying how painful it is when someone you love dies. My heart has been broken many times. But is avoiding that pain that we know will come worth watching someone suffer for longer than is needed? Yes, I am saying that I am in favor of Death with Dignity. If someone is suffering so much that life feels unbearable, and there is no treatment for their condition, by all means, allow them the choice of death in the place and at the time of their choosing. That is mercy, compassion, and love in action.