Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How Do You Want to Die?

"How do you want to die?"

I was asked this question while sitting in the cozy booth of the Diner in Williamsburg, savoring a steak, by an interviewing VP for a company I really wanted to work for. His name was Kevin and he wore a quirky go-tee and asked the question as though he had spitted it out at every candidate for the job.

I'd like to fall a great height and hopefully make peace with my life on the way down. A quick end, a chance to notice that it was indeed the end, I replied.

I got the job but I don't think solely because of my choice of deaths. Years later and a number of crushing deaths of family members, I am mesmerized by the frailty of the human body and the durability of the human heart. And more than once since Kevin offered me the job I have asked myself, a loved one approaching their own death, how I would like to die.

After my father died, I contacted my lawyer and drew up a specific advance directive/medical power of attorney. But I know that the medical profession's initial reaction in an emergency will not consider these directives. I selfishly hope that I've got another few decades in me and that by the time I'm of failing health, the medical profession will have come back to a more humane use of its resources regarding death.

Ray Buursma at the Holland Sentinel writes a brief and plain column today about why assisted suicide should be legal in Holland and matter-of-factly debunks the opposing arguments. It's a common and common sense rebuttal to those who oppose assisted suicide. But it does little to cross over into a convincing argument.

What I like about the little column is how Buursma contemplates his own death and chastises us for what he calls "society's taboo toward end-of-life choices." This alone, this contemplation of how we wish to die, or perhaps the experience of watching a loved one approach death, does more for the global assisted suicide movement than any argument. Not shying away or hiding behind the taboo allows us to think about death in unsentimental, nondogmatic ways.

In this case, of how we die, experience and information does changes hearts and minds.

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