Su Lum: Slumming
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
September was Suicide Prevention Month. We read a lot of articles and letters about the tragedy of young people taking their lives because of the agony of lost loves, the despair of being bullied, the exacerbation of drugs and alcohol and the seeming hopelessness of depression. The point was driven home by the suicide of Bil Rieger, owner of Kenichi restaurant, a shock to the community.
Everything we read was sad and true, but there is another side to suicide that goes unsaid: As we continue to live longer and longer, many of us of a certain age begin to worry, “What’s going to happen to us?”
Used to be, we got sick and died. Had a heart attack and died, had a stroke and died, got hit by the proverbial truck and died. Now, there’s a billion-dollar market for drugs to prevent the conditions that might kill you, and another billion-dollar market to keep you alive if you are felled despite your precautions.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing – if it weren’t for modern science, I’d have been dead when I went down with ARDS (adult respiratory distress syndrome) in 1999. I’ve enjoyed my reprieve and have never, by nature, been suicidal. But what if worse comes to worst and life no longer is worth living?
In 1991, Derek Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society, published a book titled “Final Exit,” which was a manual for killing yourself. You want to die? Well here’s what will do the job. The book included charts of fatal doses of medication – so many of pill X, so many of pill Y. It was a radical publication about a subject no one ever talked about. The Pope, it goes without saying, did not write the introduction.
In those days, the meds were fairly easy to obtain, either by prescription or on the street. Now they no longer exist or are under lock and key, and the subject of “how to” is hush-hush again.
In 2003, The Hemlock Society transmogrified into Compassion and Choices. A friend of mine showed me a recent copy of their magazine, and I was overcome with disgust. What pap!
You want to die? Well, you can go to Oregon (or Switzerland or Holland) if you’re terminally ill. “If suffering from terminal illness cannot be otherwise relieved, competent adults may consider self-administration of medication to achieve a peaceful death” – no details included.
Or you can consider VSED, Voluntarily Stop Eating and Drinking, “for a gentle, natural passing.” My ass. In a society where we can have our dogs put down in 10 seconds, VSED can take up to three weeks. Have you tried not eating for three days?
A society that endorses starving yourself to death is barbaric.
I don’t want to have to wait to check out until I’m gasping my last breath. The Hemlock Society’s philosophy was “to allow dying people to know how to bring about their peaceful ends when dying, trapped in a ruined body, or just plain terminally old, frail and tired of life.”
We shouldn’t have to travel to Oregon to drink the Kool-Aid in a sterile setting, we shouldn’t have to learn how to tie a noose or the proper way to attach a hose to the exhaust pipe to get off the planet.
It’s a complicated subject. Make it too easy, and the infirm might feel obligated to get out of the way; make it too difficult, and you’re going to have to take care of us.
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