Sunday, 13 May 2018

Choices

There has been a lot of news coverage this week about David Goodall, an Australian academic who travelled to Switzerland to end his life by euthanasia. Doctor Goodall was 104 years old at the time of his death on Thursday and had worked up to the age of 102. He was generally healthy but after a fall last year had been deemed unable to care for himself. The inability to work and be independent, combined with his growing frailty conspired to make him feel he didn't want to live any more.

I have always supported the idea of euthanasia so it took me by surprise a little when all I could think about Dr Goodall was that he must  be incredibly impatient. Only two years ago he was working as an academic, now he was itching to die. Most of us end our working lives something like 30 years earlier than he did and for many of us our recognised contribution to society ends at the end of our working lives. What an incredible privilege to work to the age of 102. I wondered why Dr Goodall was so quick to decide that his life was not worth living. At 104 his remaining life was undoubtedly very limited but I felt as though he was reluctant to develop any other interest or purpose. The average person who retires at 65 or 70 doesn't have the luxury of euthanasia for the reason that they are getting older and dislike the effects of age.

When discussing David Goodall with an acquaintance, they said that he probably had a great life and didn't want to be bothered with a smaller one. That person went on to mention their mother who up until recently was able and active but has become frail and nervous. The comment was that she wouldn't cope with an inactive life.

The common theme in Dr Goodall's death and the comments of my friend is the implied understanding that an inactive life is worth nothing. The implication is that death is preferable to an inactive life.

I object to that logic. I object to it as a person who has become less active but still has a contribution to make. I object to it because I have been a victim to the same you-must-be-fully-capable thinking.

I support David Goodall's right to end his life but I don't like the message it sends.

34 comments:

  1. Younger people who are limited often commit suicide. I am limited in mobility, but I have no desire to die. Plus, even if I am not a very active contributor in this world, I still deserve to live and want to live.

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    1. I guess we all have different expectations and the right to choose. It's probably irrational but this man making this choice annoyed me.

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  2. I think it is important for everyone to see the video of mr goodhsall's last interview.
    He was vibrant, lucid , positive, in charge , and underlined his personal reasons for doing what was going to be done.
    I too share your worries of others who my feel they ought to, or may be manipulated into similar decisions

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    1. I must look up the video, I have only read reports written by others

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  3. I support his right to end his life and I also support his reasons for doing so. It's not up to others to decide if he should die or not. Okay, in some cases someone might be manipulated into dying, but that possibility shouldn't mean everyone is forced to live on till the bitter end.

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    1. I don't expect people to live through a bitter end. I am asking about the implications of this decision for me or somebody like me. I have been knocked back for employment not because I didn't h ave the necessary skills but because I wouldn't be able to stand at a reception desk for five hours. What would be wrong with sitting?
      If Dr Goodall, a highly educated and intelligent man found he had nothing more to give or get from life, Isn't there an implication that physical infirmity makes a person "less"? If he couldn't even live for another few years what does that say about my right to employment? or the rights of anyone who is less than physically perfect or has any kind of mental impairment?
      The assumption that the only life worth living is one where a person is unencumbered is frightening and I'm not referring to the obvious danger of people being coerced into suicide but the more subtle erosion of the value of a less than perfect life.
      He was not terminally ill and he was not in pain and unlike a young person who might face decades of suffering, he could have expected a maximum of ten years

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    2. No one's saying that if you're rejected for a job or you aren't physically perfect, you ought to die. What I'm saying is that it's up to the individual. One person might want to hang on as long as possible, even if they're getting frailer and frailer, while another person still in relatively good health wants to go. I think that decision should be respected. But it's a very controversial issue.

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    3. Nick you are putting words I didn't say into my mouth.

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  4. I heard him on the radio before his death. He seemed lucid and intelligent but like you I found something disturbing about his choice. After all that action he had time to contemplate and consider but he chose to throw his life away like a worthless Coke can.

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  5. Yes. I am sad that he felt he had no other options. Or that he refused to consider any other options. I do support his decision, but...

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    1. I never thought I would feel this way. I don't believe any living thing should be forced into unnecessary suffering but to me this reeks of the arrogance of the able

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  6. I am a senior citizen. I am fairly independent and can look after myself now. I however foresee the time that will come when I may not be able to due to some permanent problems that I have learnt to live with. Before that happens, I would also like to die as I don't want to be a burden on my children or be dependent on professional help for day to day living. I suspect that in the case of Goodall too he must have reached that stage and decided to opt out.

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    1. I do understand that and accept it although I suspect your children would view it as a privilege to care for you.

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  7. You can’t expect everyone to have the same opinion as you, Kylie. It doesn’t work like that.

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    1. I don't even have the same opinion as myself, Terry and I know it's a difficult subject so I don't expect to agree with everyone.
      I do expect readers to try to get their head around what I'm trying to say

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  8. It is always interesting -- and uncomfortable -- to be faced with a situation that collides with what we think we thought. Every time this has happened to me I found it was good for me to stretch my thinking to come to a new understanding. I have to go away and think about what you are saying now, as it's a new nuance of the assisted suicide debate that I hadn't considered.

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    1. I'm still trying to get my head around why this particular one bothers me. I have watched documentaries about assisted suicide and seen numerous people make that choice without batting an eyelid.
      Thanks for taking me seriously :)

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  9. I read somewhere that he was losing his vision, an inactive life is one thing, but to be inactive and blind must really make life not worth living.

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    1. yes, it would be very frustrating. Maybe I expected too much of him

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  10. Kylie, you write as if you feel personally letdown. The thought also come to me that many people who are dealing with severe health issues fear that if assisted suicide and euthanasia should win acceptance, they will be pressured to end their own lives for the convenience of others, and I'm wondering if some of your criticism of David Goodall might have been borne from such a fear.

    "I wondered why Dr Goodall was so quick to decide that his life was not worth living. At 104 his remaining life was undoubtedly very limited but I felt as though he was reluctant to develop any other interest or purpose."

    "Very limited" indeed! He couldn't even swallow the drug that ended his life. As for being "quick" to end his life, given that he had survived 104 years of life's vicissitudes, it's hardly like he jumped ship the first time he had a problem. Perhaps, his timing was influenced by his fear that, if he waited, his failing body might have deprived him of the ability to even turn the IV valve. While he might well have made the final decision fairly rapidly, I think it likely that he had given the matter a lot of thought over a lot of years, and that when certain conditions were met, he was ready to act.

    The average person who retires at 65 or 70 doesn't have the luxury of euthanasia for the reason that they are getting older and dislike the effects of age."

    What a blessing it would have been to 63-year-old Robin Williams and those close to him if he had been able to escape the depredations of "diffuse Lewy body dementia" with painless dignity. Unfortunately, even people who are 104 don't don't have such a "luxury" in most places.

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    1. I didn't know he couldn't swallow, that's no kind of life.
      I must have read different reports to what others did because I was under the impression he was in reasonable health.
      I have probably been wrong about this but I also need to do some more thinking....

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  11. I understand your point of view perfectly. However I don't know the full story and perhaps even he didn't tell everyone the full story.

    At the young age of 93 and with all her faculties my Mother held a family conference about a year after her husband died. She was tired. She explained that she was not as agile mentally as she had been (but was still more mentally agile than I ever was) and was not going to be able to finish the book she was writing. She had decided to join those of her friends and family who had passed on. Three weeks later she joined them. She had the willpower to leave this life and she did. I didn't like it but I respected her decision and was with her until she died.

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    1. The last time I ever saw my grandfather he told me he was tired and I think it's a common sentiment.
      Did your mum need help, were you at risk of prosecution? I am always a little bit in awe of the planning that goes in to that kind of death (I'm guessing she didn't travel to Switzerland)

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    2. Mum just didn't eat but just had water. For her final few days she was in a lovely nursing home. A doctor wanted to get a court order to force feed her but I pointed out how ludicrous he would look and he didn't pursue it. He was just covering his back. There was no positive assistance to die and no risk of any legal action.

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    3. That took some fortitude, for you both.

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    4. My 85-year-old father exacted a promise from me as the time of his death approached. That promise was that I would not let him linger in pain "Even if you have to ease me out," he said, and I told him I would do whatever it took. My only reluctance about giving him my promise was that I knew it might very well oblige me to break the law. Other than that, I was happy to give my father the peace that came from knowing that his son would not allow him to suffer. It was my final gift to him, and I've never had a smigden of regret. We put suffering pets to death and call it it mercy; we put suffering humans to death and call it murder. I can't say that, in a world free of religion, euthanasia would soon become legal, but I do think that religion is a very great impediment to this and many other things that fairly scream out, "This right; this is just; this is merciful." The reason that it is an impediment is because once a person is convinced that he (or she) knows with certainty what it is that God expects of him, all other considerations become irrelevant.

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  12. I absolutely support a person's right to leave this earth if they are lucid. So many people suffer terribly - you wouldn't allow an animal to suffer like that. But talking about his being "in a hurry", oddly enough as he pressed the button to release the chemicals there was a problem and he (apparently) asked what was taking so long. So because of that they had to go through the routine of asking him yet again if he was sure he wanted to go through with it. Anna

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    1. Well I might have to go back to the drawing board on my reaction to his death but it would seem that my assessment of him as impatient was pretty close to the mark!

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    2. "I absolutely support a person's right to leave this earth if they are lucid."

      Then you would not support a person with, for example, Alzheimer's arranging to die at a time when he or she is no longer lucid? I've no doubt but that many, many people kill themselves well before they're ready to die because they know that if they wait, they won't be able to carry out their intention. If euthanasia was legal, everything could be arranged in advance.

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    3. Snow,
      I could be wrong but I thought lucidity was a requirement for assisted suicide even where it is legal?
      Is assisted suicide the same as euthanasia?

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    4. "Is assisted suicide the same as euthanasia?"

      No, euthanasia is done on the patient's behalf without regard to the patient's current lucidity or even consciousness. Assisted suicide was what your countryperson underwent. So far as I know, euthanasia isn't legal anywhere, so let's say, for example, that you have some neurological disease that would eventually preclude you from swallowing a drug, tripping a valve, or taking ANY other measure to end your life, you need to kill yourself while you still can take a drug or trip a valve.

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  13. I also support euthanasia and have no judgment around the time chosen by David Goodall. It is such an intensely private decision and I'm sure it wasn't a knee-jerk reaction to his deteriorating physical health. I'll wait til I'm 102 before passing comment on his choice :) and meanwhile will celebrate his life well lived.

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    1. Yes, those are completely reasonable sentiments.
      Having said that, I don't regret my judgement because he invited public scrutiny and it has initiated conversation.

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