I have this relative. It’s a distant relation, through marriage, but I spent a lot of time with her as a kid. I even visited her as an adult, enjoying tea in her pristine white apartment overlooking Beacon Hill Park in Victoria. She was interesting. She was never particularly cheerful, but she was interesting. Her husband died years and years and years ago.
In the last 10 years, she’s deteriorated quite a bit. She’s still interesting, but she’s miserable at the same time. She can’t get around; she can’t do anything herself. A once completely independent widower, who kept herself well-fed, clothed and housed on her own for years, is now completely incapable of even brushing her teeth. She is all there, mentally, able to take in the degree to which she has disintegrated into a broken, nonfunctioning vegetable. She watches herself, fully aware, struggle with the most mundane tasks. Understandably, this has destroyed her emotionally.
A year ago, she asked a couple of my family members to kill her. Every last one of us wished we could have fulfilled her request without going to prison for murder. And so she sits, rotting away in a home, loathing every day, every hour, every minute of her existence. Time seems to slow as she watches her body reject her and she can’t even muster the strength to press the on button on the TV or lift a book to distract herself. We’ve forced this on her and no one can help her.
This morning I read a post on Patheos by Rebecca Hamilton, a Catholic blogger. She talked about her mother who is ageing, slipping away and losing her memories. She lamented,
“Every time I write a post about Mama, a few sick souls comment that situations like this are a fine argument for euthanasia.”
I have no evidence to back this up, but I highly doubt those were the words the advocates for euthanasia used. She goes on,
“What is wrong with someone that they could look at a frail elderly person and their first thought is to kill them?”
Is that really what they’re saying, Rebecca? Or are they saying that in situations like these, the elderly and the family should be able to choose euthanasia, should they feel it’s the right option for them?
“I start stammering when I try to formulate a response to this. Kill my mother? That’s their advice?”
Again, I doubt that’s what they said. I think you’ve built yourself a straw man whose shoulder you can cry persecution on.
Advocates of death with dignity do not “look at an elderly person and their first thought is to kill them.” What happens instead, Rebecca, is that we look at the shell of a person, a small, tiny portion of who that person used to be and wonder, “Are they okay with the state of their life right now? Do they actually want to endure this deterioration?” If that answer to that is no – and of course, it differs for everyone – then euthanasia should be a totally legal option.
Who are we to look at someone who’s led a long, eventful life, who’s tired, over it, and miserable and say, “No. You must endure this”? And more importantly, why would we want to?
My own grandmother will be 98 this September. She’s the opposite of my other relative in that her body is just fine but her mind is completely gone. She has zero recollection of who she is, where she is and who she is related to. She doesn’t know me, or her four daughters or her son. She spends her days cooped up in a care home, just waiting for her body to catch up with her mind. She is not herself in any way. Some days she sits in the cafeteria and shouts (and she can shout) for pudding until it arrives. Other days she gets shushed by everyone as she sings out of tune at the top of her lungs. Every once in a while, she sits at the piano and plays part of a tune she once knew, only to forget it 30 seconds in.
I knew my grandma well when she was “with it”. My grandfather died in 1987 and since that time, she’s travelled the globe, started dating a multi-millionaire, and kept her apartment clean, her Cadillac Eldorado in perfect working order, and even found the time to cook me, my brother and my 7 cousins a meal from time to time. It wasn’t until just a few years ago, that her mind began to leave her.
She was proud and strong. She drove until my aunts physically removed her car from the grounds of her apartment. When others offered to drive, she would elbow them and pinch them and demand, “Get out of my goddamned car before I report it stolen!” until they did. She walked every day, had a beer or two on special occasions and at every family get-together she would start dancing, draw everyone up to dance with her and then start poking them and elbowing them to get a rise out of them.
My cousins and I used to talk about her over beers at the pub, and we all agreed. She had all of our unending respect. If there was anyone we knew who could kick ass, it was Grandma.
If she had been made aware back then, that her mind would vacate her head and she wouldn’t even know who she was, she would have said, without a moments hesitation, “Well then, I suppose one of you is going to have to do me in!”
She had 5 kids in 4 years, as she reminded us a million times over the years. She worked full-time with 5 kids. She took care of my dying grandfather, and then took care of her dying boyfriend. She played a huge role in the lives of her 9 grandkids and now we want to strip her of the right to end her life with her dignity intact.
Not every situation is the same, Rebecca. Maybe your mother is someone who would have never wanted you to help her leave this world under any circumstances. Maybe her own dignity wasn’t as important to her as her faith in God was, but you have to understand, not everyone is that way. A good case for euthanasia means if you can remove your own feelings from the equation, being as it’s not your life and you should have no authority over it, would your mother want this life she’s living now?
If the answer is yes, then no death with dignity supporter would suggest you “kill your mother.” Chances are though, the answer isn’t yes.