We need to talk about how we die
Harrowing experiences and a plea for a respectful debate about euthanasia. Readers reply about euthanasia
‘Is it time we talked about how we die?’ might, a reader suggests, be a more inclusive approach
My column on euthanasia (Is it time we talked about euthanasia?) brought heartfelt replies which I have to say have stayed with me since I read them.
One reader writes that her dad, who had repeatedly said that “if he ever ended up like that we were to shoot him” was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in his early 60s.
Now he cannot recognise his family or talk to them, is incontinent, cannot feed himself and is confined to bed. Every day when his family visit they ask how he is “all the while hoping that the answer we receive is negative, no he has gotten worse, there is nothing we can do for him . . . it won’t be long now . . .”
This reader was upset by two sentences in my column: “Some families would gladly push for euthanasia to get their hands on an inheritance. Others would be torn apart by the idea of a parent seeking to die or of this option being raised with a parent”.
Neither of these motivations apply in the case of her family, she writes. I should explain to anyone who didn’t read the column that those two sentences were written to highlight the complexity of framing good legislation on euthanasia. I am in favour of assisted suicide in certain circumstances but these two sentences highlight the difficulties involved in framing legislation.
My reader makes the point that however difficult the task may be, it needs to be addressed “if we as a country are going to cope with the horrific future that is most certainly coming down the line”.
A reader whose mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s in her late 50s, writes that “as Alzheimer can be hereditary condition I have always wondered will I get it, will my wife have to put up with a long, ultimately fruitless, number of years as my carer, me robbed of my mind and her robbed of valuable years and all our plans for a healthy retirement dashed and destroyed?
“I for one would want euthanasia, I don’t want to be a burden, I don’t want to end up an empty shell and so I have told her to pop me in a wheelchair and leave me out on a frosty night in the garden or push me to the end of a pier and I will do the rest. She won’t, of course, but I meant it!
“I hope you can continue to keep this issue live and eventually Irish politicians and the population can have a meaningful conversation about an issue that will ultimately affect many of us.”
With reference to my reader’s fear of inheriting Alzheimer’s, genetics can be a factor in Alzheimer’s, more particularly in the early onset of the disease but so are lifestyle and environmental issues. There is also a relatively rare gene variation that it is thought may help protect against the disease.
A reader who cares for his wife who suffers from dementia writes, “I have given thought to my own death and the manner of it and am quite clear (at this stage anyway) that I do not want to be kept alive simply because it is medically possible to do so.”
However, he has a difficulty with the title of my column which was “Is it time we talked about euthanasia?”. He fears that putting the question this way “might invite people to go into opposite pro and against camps, advocate their positions and miss a chance to engage in a more inclusive discussion”.
“Is it time we talked about how we die?” might, he suggests, be a more inclusive approach because “this does not exclude the euthanasia question, and offers not a solution, but a challenge all of us will face.”
I would certainly echo his view and the view, I think, of many readers, that we need to talk about this question of how we die in a way that is respectful to the many views on the issue, which are sincerely held and deeply emotional.
Padraig O’Morain (firstname.lastname@example.org) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is “Mindfulness for Worriers”. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email.