Take it or leave it.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A BETTER WAY TO DIE


I'm in favor of the new death with Dignity Act, which took effect in California in June of 2016. The physician-assisted dying law, as it is also called, allows "certain eligible individuals to legally request and obtain medications from their physician to end their life in a peaceful, humane, and dignified manner." The legislation was 25 years in the making, and way overdue. Because why shouldn't people get to choose the time and manner of their own death? And really, we already do. Most of us lead a life of slow suicide, because our habits kill us. If you've ever smoked a cigarette, consumed too much alcohol, eaten charred meats or trans fats, drunk tap water, or any water bottled in plastic, spent time in a smoggy city, gotten an X-ray, taken anesthesia - all of which hasten death - you have taken time off your life. If you do not exercise, which has proven to prolong life, you have failed to extend your days, which is not unlike suicide. But with the exception of smoking, there is little in the way of stigma attached to any of these all-too-common pastimes. So why should someone be judged if he chooses to take a pill or powder to expedite his inevitable and imminent end? 


Of course not just anyone has the right to die with dignity, according to the law. You must be eligible. Be eighteen years of age or older; mentally competent; a resident of certain states (California is one). And of course, you must be diagnosed with a terminal illness that will, within reasonable medical judgment, lead to death within six months. I got this off deathwithdignity.org, which is quite informative.


There are a lot of hurdles the terminally ill must leap through before getting their death potion. You need to make a couple oral requests to your physician, separated by a period of at least fifteen days. You must also make a written request, and your physician's diagnosis must be confirmed by a second doctor. The medicine is usually a barbiturate, or sleeping medication, in powder form and mixed with about 4 ounces of liquid, then chased with something sweet to kill the bitter aftertaste. Most people fall asleep peacefully about 10 minutes after drinking the potion, and die within a couple hours. Although some people remain alive for over 6 hours, sleeping comfortably all the while. It costs about $300 or $400 but can be as much as 10 times that amount, if there are drug shortages. And it is not covered by insurance.


My question is, why do you have to be terminally ill to have a way out of this life that society will condone? We are all dying, some more slowly than others, some with an end date farther in the future. But if a person who is otherwise healthy wishes to end his life, shouldn't he be able to without having recourse to a razor blade, a noose, or the old carbon monoxide trick employed by my favorite author, John Kennedy Toole, who died when he was 32? And a bottle of Tylenol, though cheap and available, is much too imprecise and really damages the liver. Can't we be like real life Romeo and Juliets with their love potion? Well, and I had to look this up, Juliet actually took a sleep medication which Romeo mistakenly thought had killed her, so he poisoned himself. When Juliet awoke and found him dead she was so overcome by grief that she ran a dagger through her heart. Much too dramatic for me, probably because it is drama. But the concept of dying in your beloved's arms, when you are still young enough to hold each other tightly...there's appeal there.


Life has so many little nuisances. I experienced this the other day when cleaning the yard. I was trimming the jade trees and stuffing them into a trash bin. Carrying the bin across the yard once, twice, thrice and I got a stitch in my side that is still with me five days later. It makes breathing difficult. Then there is the tender gum I have, which will necessitate a trip to the dentist. And the rash I got on my hip that itches like crazy. And I've made a study of aging. Guys don't do too well much after the age of 55. My man George Clooney is starting to go downhill. Paunchy, hoary, saggy, baggy, furrow-browed and oh so tired. He's 55, 12 years older than I. Cruise and Pitt and Depp are sure to follow.





Of course I am a healthy liver. I eat clean, exercise, abstain from alcohol, tobacco and drugs including coffee. I get a lot of sleep. I spend time in nature. I meditate. I meditate while exercising in nature. I just don't know how much extra youth I can expect to squeeze out of all these healthy habits. But if you're Ray Kurzweil, it's not about staying young, it's simply about staying alive. Longevity experts assure us that if a person can make it to the year 2040 he can expect to live forever. Because if you're alive 24 years from now you'll likely have access to technology which offers you the opportunity to extend your life indefinitely. With implants or nanoparticles or downloading your brain into a robot, whatever. I'll be 67 when that year comes. A senior citizen. "Another shitty old man," to quote my favorite band. 




Who wants to live forever anyway? If you give the matter two minutes' thought you realize being around always would be a real freakin' drag. Most old people I know are chronic cranks, narrow-minded and set in their old ways. Who'd want to stay that way for all time? Not I, said the fly.


So I met this great girl. I mean great in so many ways. Beautiful. Bright. Funny as hell. I feel like I've known her all my life and we've only just met. What's more, I feel like I'd want to know her all my life, which is a lot from someone who tends towards impatience. She makes me bounce off the wall, and reminds me of another Green Day song. "She's a loner, not a stoner. Bleeding heart and the soul of Ms. Teresa. Supernova, Cherry Cola." Yep. My little Youngblood. And she's not even from Minnesota!





Anyway, much like me, my little Evie as I like to call her doesn't see life after 50 as something worth hanging around for - even if it's with me. And why should she? Just to be another product of plastic surgery on hormone therapy chasing after younger men? This little cutie pie sweetheart is currently 38, which gives us 12 years of fun and games. At which point she'll be crotchety and menopausal, I'll be whitewashed and tired-eyed like George Clooney. We'll both be older than many individuals whose habits did them in before their time. And we'll go the way of F. Scott Fitzgerald (44), O. Henry (47), Jack Kerouac (47), Whitney Houston (48), Michael Jackson (50), Heath Ledger (28), Elvis (42), Jimi Hendrix (27), Jim Morrison (27) and Amy Winehouse (27). And we'll take our own lives. Hopefully then we will have access to the appropriate medication, because I threw out the liquid lorazepam and morphine that hospice gave my mom - which would have been enough to off us both with some left over for our unborn child.


So call this my suicide note. Thing is, I've been reading a lot about the afterlife. And reincarnation. You can't really have one without the other. And when it's done, they say that we are the judge of our own lives, but with crystal clarity. And we sometimes choose to come back to Earth in order to learn lessons and right wrongs. What if after cutting short our lives, Evie and I come back as poor suckers with a huge zest for life but with a terminal illness that cuts our existence short so that, I dunno, we don't even make it to 50? Is that the lesson we'll be doomed to learn after so cavalierly deciding to pluck the flower of living at full bloom? But here's the thing. Even if that were the case, that prematurely dead person of some distant future could never be me. This me, defined by these circumstances and identity and memories, is not that me, whoever that is. The connection is lost. There is no continuity. It's like this. A wave emerges and subsides back in the sea. Even if a new wave appears in its place, it's never the same. Reincarnation debunked. The soul's journey is a myth, sorry to break the news. It's actually quite liberating, to break free of delusion.


And since we're on the subject, what is full bloom anyway? Fifty-ish is actually pretty old by anybody's standards. And what if between now and then we choose to have a child? We better get to it, or our baby will barely be 10 before he's an orphan. I don't think being an orphan is all that bad. Parents can stifle their child, smother it, perpetuate their own idiosyncrasies. Maybe we'll do our part by just bringing a soul into the world and letting the world take care of the rest, after seeing to his financial well-being, of course. Who knows, maybe by appointing our own exit time we'll start a global trend, provide an antidote for overpopulation, and end the stigma surrounding suicide. In one fell swoop. Our exit strategy may inspire the masses, who will learn the art of maintaining yourself at tip top for five good decades then exiting at the top of your game, just before you'd otherwise break down at the merciless hands of time. Die in the arms of your beloved and enjoy an eternity together, will be our slogan. Can that be trademarked? 


One afterthought. What if death is just eternal sleep (I've read this too)? And so in dying we are instantly deprived of each other's company? Is true love so worth cherishing that you overlook the physical decrepitude that inexorably creeps in its way over time? I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get there. We have more than a decade to decide. And we can always change our mind. 


But otherwise, if you don't hear from me after 2028, you'll know why.





So here's my goodbye...


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