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Su Lum: Instant death

My 97-year-old mother has her wits about her, still reading up a storm and railing against The Republicans.She says shes surprised and sometimes appalled that she keeps on ticking and that although she gets a little bit weaker month by month, the pluses outweigh the minuses and shes not ready to take active steps to check herself out.She has taken many steps to ensure that no one calls 911 if anything happens, that she wont be put into the hospital no matter what, has her living will filled out with every T crossed and every I dotted, has Do Not Resuscitate notices on her door, the wall behind her bed and on a plastic bracelet on her wrist.Her doctor, her caretakers, her friends, the hospice people (whose services she has well outlived) and the family all know that we are not, however well-meaning, to interfere when her time comes.Her hope is that she will be quietly carried away. Her dread is of being put on life support machines or into a nursing home. Her thought is that when she feels life isnt worth living, shell stop taking her medications and starve herself to death. Not a bad death, her doctor tells her, but a slow process, hard on the survivors.Early in July, I had to have my 14-year-old dachshund Trudy euthanized. There was no gray area about it: Trudy was dying and dying miserably.Scott at Aspen Animal Hospital gave Trudy a shot of Beuthanasia (marketing speak for beautiful euthanasia), and it was so fast that while he was pushing the plunger Trudy was already gone.Could that kill a person? I asked. Oh yes.Trudy lay dead on the table and even at that terrible moment I found myself blurting, I WANT some of that! I wanted a vial of Beuthanasia in my medicine cabinet, thought that everyone should have it, along with their Band-Aids and mouthwash. My mother should be able to have it.Why should my mother even have to think about starving herself to death when death could be so easy? I dont want her to have to make either choice, but if it were me, Id take the shot.We live in fear of being kept alive on machines, or have to jump through hoops to acquire the illegal drugs, unsure if they will do the job, hoping we wont barf them up and ruin the exit, adding the plastic bag for good measure, because what is readily available for our pets is not available to us.I know its more complicated than that. If death were easy, the old and infirm might feel obligated to hasten the process, to get out of the way and not be a burden. Avaricious kith and kin might start administrating lethal doses, claiming it was the patients wish.Still, there is something dreadfully wrong with a system where my mothers only legal option is as primitive as the ancient Eskimo custom of old people going off to (or being left on) an ice floe to freeze to death.And when my time comes, I hope well have progressed enough as a society that I can feel safe with the knowledge that my precious syringe of Beauthanasia lies behind the hand cream and the Q-Tips.[Su Lum is a longtime local who isnt in a hurry, but likes to be prepared. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times]


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