Dementia and the Right to Die

If anything is writ upon the Wall of Fate, it is that the right to die will eventually become as much a part of the culture as the right to choose who to marry. Think of where we were 300 years ago: marriages were arranged by parents, women were viewed as the intellectual inferiors of men, minorities were denied basic human rights, homosexuality was utterly taboo. Today, although there is undeniably work to be done to achieve equality in each of these areas, we are well on our way to a world where each of these groups of people are accorded a status equal to the once all-powerful white male, at least in the Western World.

The right to end a pregnancy was won several decades ago, and, while not on as solid a footing as the other advances mentioned, it would be difficult to turn back the clock on that issue. Now the turn has come for the right to die.

Currently five states allow terminally-ill citizens to choose a painless, immediate death rather than wait for nature to take its course with all the agonies, both mental and physical, that accompany a lingering death. More states will surely follow in the near future as poll numbers show : 70% now support euthanasia for the terminally ill.

The next step after that will be to ensure that the right to die includes those suffering from dementia.   A moving and convincing manifesto by Canadian Gillian Bennett, “Dead at Noon,” says it all and should be required reading for all politicians and citizens weighing in on this subject. Bennett realized the road ahead for her was not a pretty one as she became more and more forgetful. “All I lose is an indefinite number of years of being a vegetable in a hospital setting, eating up the country’s money but having not the faintest idea of who I am.”   Prevented by law from seeking a doctor’s help in ending her life, she took action herself with a handful of barbiturates in 2014.

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote about “Ethical Suicide Parolors” in one of his futuristic short stories, “Welcome to the Monkey House,”  a comfortable setting with support from professionals and family on the day of the last chapter of our lives.  That’s what we need now, so that anyone who can sense the approach of a debilitating dementia can opt for a death with dignity.

Of course there are potential problems, but the good that would result far outweighs any of them.   And if you believe that God doesn’t want us to take our own life, the question then becomes, how do you know that? and would God rather have us live for months and years without even knowing our own names, knowing nothing but how to chew food?


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