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Thomas Wictor

I’m not the right guy to ask

I’m not the right guy to ask

Someone sent me a link to Scott Adams’s post “I Hope My Father Dies Soon” and asked me my opinion on it. In his piece Adams says the following:

My father, age 86, is on the final approach to the long dirt nap (to use his own phrase). His mind is 98% gone, and all he has left is hours or possibly months of hideous unpleasantness in a hospital bed. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s as close to a living Hell as you can get.

If my dad were a cat, we would have put him to sleep long ago. And not once would we have looked back and thought too soon.

Because it’s not too soon. It’s far too late. His smallish estate pays about $8,000 per month to keep him in this state of perpetual suffering. Rarely has money been so poorly spent.

I’d like to proactively end his suffering and let him go out with some dignity. But my government says I can’t make that decision. Neither can his doctors. So, for all practical purposes, the government is torturing my father until he dies.

I’m a patriotic guy by nature. I love my country. But the government? Well, we just broke up.

And let me say this next part as clearly as I can.

If you’re a politician who has ever voted against doctor-assisted suicide, or you would vote against it in the future, I hate your fucking guts and I would like you to die a long, horrible death. I would be happy to kill you personally and watch you bleed out. I won’t do that, because I fear the consequences. But I’d enjoy it, because you motherfuckers are responsible for torturing my father. Now it’s personal…

I’m okay with any citizen who opposes doctor-assisted suicide on moral or practical grounds. But if you have acted on that thought, such as basing a vote on it, I would like you to die a slow, horrible death too. You and the government are accomplices in the torturing of my father, and there’s a good chance you’ll someday be accomplices in torturing me to death too.

I’m not the right guy to ask about assisted suicide. Three people in my life have committed suicide, and I was forced against my will to assist in the resulting deaths. Two of those people were my parents. These three suicides ruined me. I’ll never recover.

It’s clear from the comments that many of the people responding to Adams’s post have never experienced either suicide or the death of an elderly parent. Another reason I’m not the right guy to ask about this is because both my parents wanted to live, even though they committed suicide by refusing to cooperate in their treatment. They were not thinking clearly. Their approaching deaths made them irrational.

I will say this about what Adams wrote: His father wasn’t a cat, and the government didn’t torture his father to death. Neither did anyone who opposes doctor-assisted suicide. His father died of an illness. It was death from natural causes.

There are valid arguments both for and against assisted suicide. Many of the arguments against it are not based on religious beliefs. Many of the arguments for it are in no way about “death with dignity” but are instead part of a different agenda. In the comments section of Adams’s post, there are Europeans and Canadians supporting doctor-assisted suicide. They claim that hospitals have a vested interest in keeping patients alive as long as possible.

In reality, doctors and hospitals that are members of health-maintenance organizations (HMOs) are under massive pressure to keep costs down. End-of-life care is the most expensive there is. When my parents were dying, we were pushed almost from the start to put them in hospice and withhold treatment. Insurance companies also do their best to limit end-of-life care.

My experience is diametrically opposed to everything I read in Adams’s post and in the comments. I simply didn’t meet anybody who wanted to keep my parents alive for as long as possible in order to profit from them. In my mother’s case, her oncologist fought tooth and nail to change her treatment after all her other doctors had written her off. Though Mom didn’t survive, pneumonia wasn’t the cause of her death. Her oncologist said he could save her from that, and he did.

Things are never as black-and-white as advocates want you to think. The American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians oppose physician-assisted suicide; it’s not just pigheaded members of Congress. Oregon and Washington allow it, but the laws don’t require witnesses to the administration of the lethal drugs. In both states doctors don’t report whether or not the patient consented to the administration of the lethal drugs. Those are two wide-open doors for abuse.

Another problem is that there’s no way to legally define a terminal illness. Attempts have been made to posit that “terminal illness” means an incurable or irreversible condition that will kill in a relatively short time without the administration of life-sustaining treatment. Insulin-dependent diabetics, people undergoing kidney dialysis, and those who are HIV-positive would fall into this category.

It’s a deeply complicated issue—legally and morally. There are no simple solutions.

For my part I don’t wish death on you for any position you hold in this debate. The demise of my parents showed me how precious life is. It’s possible that Adams made his comments out of anger and doesn’t really mean them. He said that his father’s mind was “98 percent gone,” which makes it hard for me to grasp how he could’ve been in hideous torment.

My father ran around the house naked from the waist down. He screamed, demolished his bedroom several times, and raved nonstop for weeks. When I quietly, gently came in to give him his medication, he did this. Words can’t describe the sight of this former Coast Guardsman and two-fisted bruiser reduced to childish hysteria. It became a test of nerves to give Dad his medication five times a day.

In the hospice he kept trying to get out of bed and run. Caring for him was the most horrifying, grotesque, appalling ordeal of my existence. And it was hands-on care, not visiting him. Putting diapers on him. Doing other things that were even worse. But I don’t view you who support physician-assisted suicide or those of you who oppose it as my enemies.

We’re all on the same train. You’re my brothers and sisters. We’re grappling with this extremely difficult issue as best we can. After Mom and Dad’s deaths, I find it hard to hate anybody. That doesn’t mean I’m suddenly a squish; if you’re planting a roadside bomb to kill schoolchildren, and someone in an Apache helicopter atomizes you with a 30 mm cannon, you got what you deserved.

But I’m not happy that you’re now just scattered limbs and pieces of meat and bone. I’m glad that you won’t be able to hurt people anymore, sure. My dominant emotion, however, is a sort of regretful disgust that you forced some mother’s son to blow you to smithereens in order to protect children. What a waste. Think what you could’ve done with your life.

The reason I can’t get involved in this debate is because I must honor the suffering I witnessed and endured. Turning this into a yet another screeching, ranting, political flame war would debase everything my parents went through, as well as what Tim and I experienced. The subject is too important for me to exploit.

Each of you must choose what you think is the best solution. I abstain from this discussion because I can’t be objective. Whatever you decide I will respect, and however you vote is your right. It’s completely legitimate. I won’t hate you or wish death on you.

I embrace life. That means I embrace your life, even if I disagree with you.