Sunday, February 17, 2008

Right To Death

A Feb. 5th article by Jane Brody in the New York Times articulates a lot of my feelings about exiting life gracefully. I admire people with a strong will to live and am all for giving them the opportunity and means to prolong their lives as much as possible.

At the same time there are many people who haved lived full lives and don't want to end up with a miserable, lingering existence when they're too old, sick and incapacitated. Add to this group those who are terminally ill, know for certain that drastic and highly painful treatments will only get them a few months, and would rather pass away on their own terms. If or when I'm in such a situation I'd solidly prefer this option.

I'd go further in case I developed a condition that gives me only a few more months to live. I'd then prefer an immediate exit if it can save multiple other lives, e.g., through donation of organs that are still usable, instead of waiting till these are also ravaged by time and further treatment. Laws should be enacted that would allow me to do this.

I thought well of Dr. Kevorkian for pushing for legalization of assisted suicide under the right circumstances. Oregon and countries like The Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland have taken welcome steps in this direction and I hope the rest of the world follows suit. While economics should not be a key factor in this debate a study I saw found that 28% of all US healthcare spending is on people in their last year of life.

Any laws allowing assisted suicide or euthanasia should have strong safeguards of course. What we would certainly not want is any person feeling pressured (even through silent cues and non verbal behavior) to end their lives to avoid being a burden on their family or others. I believe Oregon addressed this, and any further improvements can be carefully considered.

There's a related issue of the dilemma faced by the families of people who can no longer make their own decisions, and haven't made living wills covering their circumstances. A relative of mine faced this very difficult decision and felt torn before and after making it. I say to that person that you did the right thing, and this took a lot more bravery and fortitude than shirking responsibility.

Finally, getting to the brighter issue of continued living when it needs long term and/or assisted care, it's worth considering care overseas. It's a variant of medical tourism that is just beginning to be looked at. It can greatly ease the financial and physical burden of caring for Americans unable to look after themselves. Further, it can improve their quality of life thanks to an abundance of good, inexpensive help available in the right places. I just finished a little study for one such facility in India. I'm merely mentioning this idea here as it merits detailed discussion separately.