When I was in high school and my Great-Aunt Mary had to be put in the nursing home, I hated going to visit her. She didn’t remember who anyone was and she was incapable of talking anything but nonsense. I would look at her and think, “I would rather be dead than live like that.” One of my cousins has recently had her other grandfather move in with her family because he can’t take care of himself. He can’t hear, can barely see, and sometimes doesn’t make it to the bathroom in time because he can’t find it. I look at him and I think, “I would rather be dead than live like that.”
This assessment may seem rather harsh but it is just a desire to live my life with dignity. There is nothing dignified about having your son dress you every morning or spending the last several years of your life in a virtual coma as my Great-grandmother did. At that point, you are no longer contributing to society or deriving any pleasure from life. You have ceased to truly live and have been relegated to mere existence. And so as someone who dreads becoming a drain on family and society while receiving no true benefit, I believe that euthanasia should be an option.
It is true, of course, that once one has reached the point of dementia one is no longer able to make such life and death decisions. It must be left in the hands of loved ones and/or medical professionals. But just as one can have a “Do Not Resuscitate” order one should be able to have have order for a dignified death. Whoever has been given medical power of attorney should be aware of your desire to be peacefully let go once you have reached the end of your true life.
The desire and need for euthanasia is not limited to the elderly or the demented. A cancer patient who knows that his time is limited and that the end will be very painful should be able to choose how and when he dies. And the choice to forgo extreme life prolonging measures such as feeding tubes and artificial breathing machines is a right. My Mother has made it quite clear that if she is in such a situation, she doesn’t want any heroic measures to be taken. And as hard as it would be to let her go, I’d like to believe that I would honor her wishes.
When used properly, euthanasia is a very ethical practice. By no means should babies with birth defects be gassed or AIDS victims be given lethal injection. This is not about doctors choosing who should be kept alive and who would be better off dead. This is about people being allowed to decide for themselves how they want to live their lives – do they want to stay alive regardless of what state they are in or do they want to peacefully pass on when they have passed the point of awareness?
When our pets become too old or too sick to survive, we do the humane thing and put them to sleep. Why shouldn’t we give our fellow men the choice of receiving the same humane treatment?