old age

When my grandmother was in her late eighties, she was in a nursing home in which she had lived for around four years. When I was there to visit her, she asked me to kill her. She was serious in the request because her quality of life had significantly deteriorated and she knew that her state of being was going to only get far worse.

We then held hands and cried together while I told her that I couldn’t carry out the action. This is because assisted suicides is illegal in the USA as is straight-out suicide, itself.

In Holland, though, it is allowed and ratified by most of the citizens in that country. Otherwise it would not have become a law of the land there, one can assume.

Here is a true example of the way that the matter works in that nation. An American retired nurse, at age seventy-six, went to the Netherlands because she wanted to die before becoming dilapidated and helpless.

So she was sent to three doctors concerning which each one didn’t know about whom the other doctors were. She consulted with each MD. individually and as all three concurred that she were sane, rational and in her “right mind” — each doctor was given a pill to give to her so that she could take all three pills together.

One was a placebo, a sugar pill. Another was a pill to make a person sleep and the last one would kill while she slept. It was supposedly a painless procedure.

In any case the retired medical worker did achieve her aim just as my grandmother did not do so. (One does wonder about what the penalty is for someone who tried to commit suicide since the death penalty wouldn’t work out so well, would it? Perhaps prison time and maybe a fine comprises the punishment instead of killing of the suicide person and her assistant.)

In any case, I believe that I am the “boss” or the “master” of myself. The United States of America is not so. In fact, my country can’t force us to kill others in a war. Likewise, the government can’t own us even if the law indicates that it does.

So a hospital patient tried to explain the directly above simple thought to someone working at U. Mass Memorial Hospital, but to no avail. Instead the staff member felt that he has jurisdiction over everyone in terms of suicide viewpoints.

In addition, he thought that the patient’s outlook was sufficiently dangerous so as to warrant his proxy to make all health care decisions since the patient was deemed by the worker to be mentally incompetent in some ways.

(A proxy makes decisions for a person who has some sort of mental malfunction that does not conform to the staff’s opinion. The disparity in opinions between the staff member and a patient can exist due to cultural differences between them and one of the two having very rigid fixed thoughts on a topic. In that case the one with the most authority in a situation sometimes tries to control the other’s thinking and behavior while often dismissing or belittling the person deemed errant.)

In any case, many largely Christian countries often have an injunction against suicides. As a result, people who kill themselves are often denied burial in church cemeteries in those particular lands.

In fact, this orientation somewhat originates out of the backdrop of first century Christians willingly letting themselves be killed (i.e., in a gladiator arena or on a road often filled with bandits). Then they would go to glorious Heaven.

This occurrence alarmed the early church administrators because they thereby lost parishioners, money and power. So suicide was looked on with a frown and a jaundiced eye.

All the same, I read that even a first century Pope tried to commit suicide by using robbers to do the deed. It didn’t work and he did not get the sainthood that he yearned to have by being willingly killed.

… So the bigger outcome beyond the first century is that suicide continues into the present as a taboo in many lands in which the idea of the “sin” in it is handed down generation after generation by families, some social groups, society in general, some governments and some churches. How could the outcome be otherwise given the early Christian backdrop? (Of course there is much more to the loathing of suicide than only first century Christian happenings .. except in war settings wherein people are taught to kill the “enemy”.)

In any case, my poor grandmother lived to two month before her 100th birthday. In fact, she lived for many years with no eyesight, poor hearing, thin overly sensitive skin, dementia, no short term memory and just the need to sleep around the clock in a small room except when being given food, a drink, new clothes or a hose down in the shower chamber. There was also her bowel movement under her fingernails and the ugly fate that she didn’t want was fully hers due to her being forced to stay alive against her own wishes.

If she had been your beloved grandmother, what would you have done in my shoes? Would you have assisted her in some way or another to achieve her self-chosen aim or not?

Sally Dugman is a writer from MA, USA.


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