We’re used to talking about choice. The choice to have a child, eat meat, recycle, marry. As responsible, conscious people we make decisions every day. But when it comes to end of life choices, as a society we’re a bit behind.
Jack Kevorkian’s 2011 death brought back a flood of memories for me. He was my grandmother’s hero. While she was admittedly—and quite proudly—a touch twisted, I happen to agree with her and Jack: We should have a choice when it comes to end of life decisions. Growing up with her in my life, it was impossible not to see suicide as an option. Our first conversation about this took place when I was four. She explained to me that it would be up to her, that made sense to me then and it makes sense to me today.
When she tried, and failed, to kill herself there was no dignity left. Dementia took over and she lived for eight miserable years, angry and scared.
In my early twenties, I made my own plans for when I get old. They involve: assisted living, water aerobics and my best friend of 30+ years.
She and I learned to swim together. We took ballet together. When she got pregnant she told me, "You're going to be an auntie!" The idea that if our partners die before us—or better yet, they don’t—I may be lucky enough to spend my old lady years with her and members of my circle of people is comforting.
More than just the specifics of the Old People Dorm Plan, the idea that I will have a say in my own fate is, at the core, what is appealing.
Suicide, assisted or otherwise, is a hard sell. I’m in no way saying it should be mandatory, based on one’s ability to afford care or based on anything other than personal choice. It’s about asking the big questions: How much pain can I endure? How much of myself, or my freedom, can I stand to lose? Has my life been fulfilling? Does the good outweigh the bad? What does my God say about suicide?
For many people, religion might be the deciding factor. And that’s fine. I’m not saying that anyone should break from a religion that has filled their lives with tradition, comfort and joy.
End of life decision-making should be intense and it should be personal. But it should be a decision.
My end of life plan is, in theory, fairly sunny. I realize I may not be that lucky, or that even if I am, I may end up very sick and alone at the end. I can’t say for sure that I would choose assisted suicide if I had the option, but I know I would want the choice to talk honestly with my doctor and my loved ones and then make an informed decision.
The choice to end her own life with dignity is a luxury my own grandmother didn’t have, but it’s one I feel is fundamental to creating a conscious, kind society.