I wanted to take a moment to talk a little about the delicate topic of assisted dying/assisted suicide. There are a lot of places, nationally and internationally, wrestling with legislation and, in my opinion, if we’re going to try and do something as ambitious as legislating death, I think we should make a serious effort to get it right. Because if there’s one thing that everybody agrees on it’s this:
Life is a fragile commodity and the off-switch for it only works once.
The reason emotions are running so high is because the stakes are so big. Legislation affects all of us so it’s critical we don’t leave something this important solely in the hands of politicians and lobbyists. Instead of just playing the voyeur by sitting back and listening to the attention grabbers argue about it in headlines and news clips, we the street people, the regular Joes and Joeinas living out here in the real world, need to educate ourselves more, nose around, dig up hidden angles, make sure we look at both the shining gifts and dark underbellies of every side of the argument. And most importantly, we need to start talking with each other about it.
That’s right folks. I said talking. About dying. To each other, across political, religious, ideological, racial, cultural, economic, and national lines. Believe it or not communication can be a good thing. Done right, it actually makes us smarter than we were before, more informed and knowledgeable, more compassionate and caring. True communication (read: listening as well as talking) not only offers our heads more information, it helps us build bridges heart to heart which, trust me, is something you really want in place when you’re hanging out there on the raw and ragged edge, desperately clinging to someone’s hand while you’re trying to tell them that you really, really want to live…or that you really, really need to die.
This is not an idea we’re talking about here people, it’s the real thing. I’ve been there, I know what it looks like. With hospice I saw both Democrats and Republicans die. I saw the faithful and atheists die. I’ve seen pro-lifers and pro-choicers, rednecks and tree huggers, rich and poor, dark and light die and I’m here to tell you that in the end, all those shallow, gritty, surface labels slough off like old skin and the person left lying in the bed is just one more beautiful, luminous, vulnerable, aching, irreplaceable and longed for human being. Somebody that gave every last one of us a huge gift by surviving this world for as long as they did. Someone who was our companion, whether we knew them or not, and without whom the pocket of the world they were responsible for would have been something a lot less.
We have got to drop the harsh, combative, divisive judgments we keep stabbing each other with if we’re to have any chance of getting this right. Every one of us deserves to have the final word on what’s happening to us and our own body, to live and then die in accordance with what’s sacred, beloved, and true to us. Every one of us deserves to feel safe knowing that nobody will ever, ever, ever try to kill us when we are wanting and longing to live, and conversely that we will never, ever be forced to experience unendurable, unending suffering when we simply can’t bear anymore.
There are valid, important points being made on all sides of this argument that we all need to take into account before any final decision is made. Because if we don’t, some helpless, dying person (actually a lot of helpless, dying people) are going to become the tragic victims of our legislation and if that happens, we will all be responsible for it. It will be all our faults for the simple reason that we didn’t make more of an effort to listen to one another and come up with some truly wise, compassionate, thoughtful, and inclusive solutions.
Phew! Okay. Enough of the soapbox. As you can tell, some things really wind me up.
So, do you find it hard to talk about assisted dying/assisted suicide with people who feel differently than you do? If so, what makes it challenging and what would make it easier? I would dearly love to hear what others are thinking about this whole subject and welcome your comments. Some ground rules though: be respectful, think before you talk, and contribute something valuable to the discussion. (Hint: Personal insights and feelings are valuable. Ranting, blaming, and proselytizing are not. Name calling will be deleted.) And humor is the best!
I’d like to spend the next few posts exploring some of the surprising things I’ve been discovering through my own investigations. Next week: Why the disabled are worried about it and why the rest of us should care.
copyright 2010 Dia Osborn