Life, Death and the grey in between

sunset melbourneA 104-year old Aussie scientist committed suicide because he felt he was too old and didn’t want to live anymore. He had no serious illness, there were clips of him walking and singing, eating cake, drinking champagne and hanging out with his family. Yet he was allowed to kill himself in Switzerland because he was tired of life and wanted to die.

What I think he needed was anti-depressants and a reason for living. He’d been kicked out of his university office two years previously, he was no longer able to drive, and was struggling to live alone. Oh poor Diddums. This is the plight of many people twenty years younger, yet they are still contributing to society and living fulfilling lives. Some doors close, other doors open.

Yes, I know we should have the right to die with dignity. But this should surely be an option for the terminally ill, those in physical long-term pain, people with no quality of life? It’s for old, sick people with no hope of any improvement. Yes, he was going to die anyway in a few years. But we are all going to die sometime – some of us sooner than later – and I am not sure old age is a good enough reasons.

My dad has been in ICU for a while and I wonder what I would do if he decided the struggle to live was too tiring, and that he now wanted to die. He could have felt that way and we didn’t know because he didn’t want to distress us. Dad has a large family who love him: a wife who utterly adores him, five children who need him around despite being in their 50’s, and 10 grandchildren. His illness came as such a shock to us all, even though he is nearly 80. I was completely unprepared. In my head and heart, he was still the dad who loved to travel and camp and hike and adventure. A few years ago, he was jogging to fetch the newspaper, scaling high fences to unlocked gates from the other side, working at the university as an advisor, chairing committees and doing church work. He has been seriously ill since mid-last year, but for the last month or so, he has been bedridden and in pain. Signs are good he might go home soon, but he’ll not be playing tennis or dashing up and down dale again. But he will hopefully finish writing a book about our family, celebrate heaps more family celebrations, potter around his garden, read and listen to music, enjoy intelligent conversation, kiss his wife every day, and simply hang out with his family. He could start an internet business. He could do heaps of stuff that does not involve too much physical energy. There are multiple possibilities.

Is the loss of physical independence so bad that death seems better? Do older people simply just get tired of life and feel like seeing what is on the other side? How do their families feel about that? What would I do if my Dad actually said he wanted to die? Would I respect his wishes or would I plead and cry and beg, forcing him through guilt to live on when he doesn’t want to?

If old people can kill themselves because they no longer feel like living, is it okay for deeply depressed people in their 30’s to do that too? At what age are you old enough to choose to die? Yes, you have the right to choose. I think. But should it be so arbitrary that you can check out as soon as you’ve had your fill of existing here on earth? Is there any line in the sand where it is just not acceptable?

I cried when I saw on the news that this scientist had gone ahead and killed himself. I just don’t think it’s as simple as he made it out to be, and I don’t think this example of euthanasia is anything more than Swiss-sanctioned suicide. And that doesn’t seem to me to be a dignified way to end your life. But who knows, maybe when I get to 104, I will think differently. God, I hope not!

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