Are we better than this?
To the editor:
From the temper and tone of the guest commentary, “The gift of death” published May 24, 2023, it is clear that the author has not read the proposed legislation for Medical Aid in Dying, opting instead to offer a hypothetical opinion based in fear and not fact. This is a tactic employed increasingly over the last six years, to everyone’s detriment. It is not helpful.
To the degree that this piece has drawn from personal experience, the author might be surprised to find that we agree that “natural death need not be a burden.” Ninety-nine times out of 100, this might be true. But who speaks for that final person, for whom a burdensome death would be a blessing and will instead experience the dying process as tortured?
Natural death is a blessing. But this piece neglects disease, and its cohorts of pain. This piece claims “there are non-violent solutions” for the 1% of the population for whom the pain of disease is unnatural, violent and “tragic.” Apparently this solution is palliative sedation, where a weakened, frail, dying person must accept medical transport (in itself a violent act, no matter how tender and capable the ambulatory unit) to the hospital (where very few would choose to die naturally) to be put in a medically induced coma (which assumes that in this locked-in, sedated state the human can no-longer feel pain) until in relative isolation (hospitals have restrictions on the number of visitors to the hospice-ward) the dying person apneas the final breath.
I am sorry, but in my experience, this is not a non-violent, or peaceful, or life-honoring “solution” to the “tragic” problem of an agonizing death.
What does it say about us to sow such callousness — not to the concepts of “death and suffering that most humans struggle to grasp” but to the lived experiences of not only my daughter, but the people surrounding her? To the 24-year-old girl, whose cancer closes her throat so that even spit cannot be swallowed, and gagging and choking on moisture from a cotton-ball meant innocently relieve the dry mouth of breathing; whose body is forced to eat itself because Voluntary Stopping of Eating and Drinking is the only option before palliative sedation. And the pain of which is beyond any “hangry” or “dehydrated” the living — in any of its “seemingly irreversible chronic pain, illness, disease or disability” conditions – have experienced; who whimpers because the cocktails of morphine, fentanyl, haldol, etc. etc. at high doses, only temporarily offers relief; who throughout maintains and displays an incredible awareness of what is happening to her, without agency; to this girl and the many like her, to the families, to the doctors who beg and apologize when not only the treatments fail, but pain management can’t keep “my soul [from] being torn apart” we owe the decency of respect. Are we better than this?
Mother of Ayla Eilert, Dec. 14, 1997 to April 2, 2022, a New York 1 percenter