Murad Jacob “Jack” Kevorkian, was a pathologist and life long proponent of assisted death for those who had to endure consuming pain and anguish at the end of their lives. He was vilified, and even served a prison sentence for second degree murder, after helping a patient with Lou Gehrig’s disease to die a painless death. Although the media had a field day, calling him “Dr Death”, he steadfastly clung to his mantra “Death is not a crime”.
Times have moved on rapidly, and civilized countries such a Switzerland and Holland have had rigorously structured euthanasia societies for decades now. One state in the USA, Oregon, has also legalised assisted dying, and HBO produced a deeply moving documentary “To live and die in Oregon”. I have looked at this beautiful film many times, and every time I have been moved to tears by the sheer humanity of the opening scene……….”Tell them it was easy folks, tell them it was easy…….”
Unfortunately, as one can fully understand, most countries have a deeply troubled moral issue with assisted death, and hence desperate people have gone to inordinate lengths to reach countries where euthanasia is legal – they are known as “Suicide tourists”. Whereas the end of life ought to be a gentle and dignified process, ever longer living people, especially in first world countries, are increasingly exposed to lingering and painful ends to their lives. This trend will most certainly increase, and now with Covid rampaging over the globe, even more so.
South Africa has had its own share of controversy in this regard, where a respected and much-loved physician, assisted his mother in having a dignified and painless death. Unfortunately, in South Africa, and elsewhere in the world, legislation has forced this movement underground, where both patient and physician are subject to prosecution for this movement.
There has, however, been one movement, Exit International, led by Dr Philip Nitschke, who has been defiant in their belief of dignity towards the end of life. Just today, this society released the plans to build a so-called suicide machine , which, in principle, was immediately adopted and supported by Dignitas in Switzerland.
I have lived a full life, a life filled with deep joy, as well as suffocating sadness. It is my belief that I must be able, if at all possible, to make decisions about the end of my life, should medical darkness descend upon me. Here I always quote the ravishing poem by Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night”, which starts as follows:
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
..but then, in “And death shall have no dominion”
“They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
And death shall have no dominion.”
I do believe that, now more than ever, we should calmly start a reasoned but deliberate discussion on assisted death in South Africa. Those of us that have seen the ravages of a painful and protracted death of a loved one, will lead this charge to reason and dignity.
Cover Foto Credit : exitinternational