One one hand we hear clarion warnings about elder suicide–and I share the worry. On the other, suicide for the elderly is sometimes promoted as beneficial in mainstream media outlets. Talk about mixed messages!
Latest example of pro suicide advocacy: Salon has published a piece by a columnist who writes on elder issues arguing that suicides among the ailing elderly should be approved as a benefit to them, their families, and society. From, “Let’s Talk About Dying,” by Lillian B. Rubin:
At 88-going-on-89 and not in great health, what’s cowardly about my deciding to turn out the lights before putting my family through the same pain they’ve already lived through with their father and grandfather? What’s courageous about spending our children’s inheritance just so we can live one more month, one more year? Is it courage or cowardice to insist on staying alive at enormous social cost – 27.4 percent of the Medicare budget spent in the last year of life – while so many children in our nation go hungry and without medical care? Is it cowardice to decide not to live with the pain of an ever-diminishing self — a body that’s always reminding us it’s there, a mind that forgets what it wants us to remember?
Courage isn’t the issue. The equal value of all of us is at stake.
Let’s look at it from a different angle for a moment. What if Salon published a piece by a gay man who said he believed suicide was proper for people like him because of discrimination he had experienced, family rejection, he was HIV + and was sick of taking the medication to hold AIDS at bay, etc.? The screaming–properly–would never stop. We would say, NO! We want you with us, not killing yourself. Shouldn’t our elders’ lives be equally valued as those of other despairing people?
Rubin raises the usual bloody flag of suicide promoters, that are more or less forced to let people die in agony:
“One way or another,” writes Sherwin Nuland in “How We Die,” “the rescue credo of high-tech medicine wins out as it almost always does.” Recounting the words and feelings as a young physician after resuscitating a dying patient, Nuland continues, “Kneeling on that bed, doing CPR, felt not only pointless, but like I was administering final blows to someone who had already had a hard enough life. Why was I forced to crack this person’s ribs? Why couldn’t we let the patient die in peace?”
That’s what Do Not Resuscitate Orders are for–to prevent such awful scenarios. Indeed, today the problem isn’t primarily receiving CPR when you don’t want it, but rather, convincing doctors and hospitals to provide it when you do want it if they think your quality of life isn’t worth the effort.
After much back and forth, Rubin extols suicide:
So where am I in all this? The answer is: ambivalent but believing I’ll overcome it when the time comes – perhaps when I finish this article and have nothing left to say. What if I do the deed before it’s absolutely necessary? I shrug at the question, “So what?” I’ll have descended into the nothingness I believe awaits me and maybe for the first time in my life will actually rest in peace. What if I’m wrong about that? Well, I’ve lived a life of many risks with no regrets, and I’m tired
I get that elderly people get tired: My mom is 95. But this kind of advocacy is really dangerous to those elderly on the lip of despair.
So, what’s it going to be? We won’t be effective in preventing suicides if we give societal approval to some. Or to paraphrase Lincoln: We can’t be half culture of life and half culture of death. Sooner or later we will become all one thing or all the other