Today, I read an op-ed piece in the LA Times about euthanasia, along with a sidebar thing saying that new legislation on this subject is up for a vote in California. First of all, I will always be bothered by the word euthanasia, since like all kids I thought it has something to do with Youth in Asia. Second, I am already obsessed with death, so I resent having new angles from which to contemplate it. Third, I am sick of hearing people’s self-serving accounts of how they helped kill a dying loved one.
This was the nature of today’s op-ed, written by Anne Lamott, a novelist whose work I haven’t read. I never liked her (based on nothing, just an irrational bias) and now I like her less. She tells the story of how a dear friend of hers, Mel, learned he had cancer, with only a shot at 6 more months if he underwent chemo therapy. Mel chose to forgo the treatment, deciding instead to try to enjoy the time he had left until he couldn’t enjoy it.
So Mel asks Anne if she will help kill him when the time comes that he is too sick to go on. She agrees, but feels bad, thinking back to when her dying father asked her and her brother to help kill him. Back then she refused. Now, she feels it would have been the right thing to do. So weeks pass and Mel and his wife call Anne, who has managed to score some barbiturates and has read instructions put out by the Hemlock Society. Mel has a lovely last night on earth, surrounded by friends, and Anne gives him the overdose, mashed up in apple sauce. Mel dies peacefully in his sleep while the friends sit around with their wine, feeling sentimental.
What do you guys think? My feeling upon reading this was: Fuck. Good for you Anne, you killed an old man. Happy? Want a fucking medal? I want to know why Mel’s wife didn’t do it. Why did they choose Anne as executioner? Is she the meanest one in their social circle? I once worked with a woman I’ll call S, who confided to me that she’d helped kill not one but TWO people: Her father and a close friend who had AIDS. I must say, there was a certain note of pride in her disclosure. I listened to the details and just thought eeoow. Both stories involved groups of friends sitting around like vultures for the Event.
I am kind of torn on this issue: People shouldn’t suffer if their suffering can be relieved, but I’m not happy with people killing their loved ones. Most people can kill themselves, unless they are paralyzed. Let them kill their own self if they have selected that option. Don’t ask me, that’s for sure. Think ahead! Find a doctor or drug dealer and get your shit together beforehand. Either way, I don’t want the government involved. I don’t want them to specify the conditions under which some doctor can kill me; and I don’t want them to make it a crime if some 88 year old guy takes out his dying wife. The government can just mind its business, i.e. starting WWIII.
One day someone may ask you to help them die. My mom asked me, when she was dying of cancer. I didn’t need to mull it over. I told her that I couldn’t do it, and that she wasn’t ready to go yet. I think the latter turned out to be true. Death is a process, just like life. When I’m on my deathbed, I hope I don’t start asking people to kill me. If they won’t kill me right now, while I’m still young enough to enjoy it, fuck them. I want to leave this life under my own steam, hopefully with an inane comment, like Larry David when he calls his best friend over to whisper: “You use too much mayonnaise.”