As an appropriate bookend to the latest round of debate over the beginning of life, there have been several stories lately about suicide by elderly couples, showing how decisions made at the end of life can be just as controversial as those at the beginning. It also reminds us of the overreach of government, particularly by social “conservatives,” when it comes to our inevitable exit.
We all remember the Terry Schiavo case, and I won’t rehash the antics of mindless pro-lifers in Florida. However, I hope you will recall also the Virginia equivalent to Schiavo (actually a predecessor) in which former Governor Jim Gilmore sought to force a wife to keep her brain-dead husband on life support, and then refused to pay her attorneys fees when she fought back and won. I have never forgiven him for that disgusting, patronizing arrogance, and it’s exactly why I didn’t vote for him when he ran for Senate in 2010. (Editorial Note: The War Department has my advanced medical directive saying pull the plug. And, boy, she just can’t wait for the opportunity).
In a slightly different vein are the assisted suicide cases. As I mentioned above, and reminiscent of Jack Kevorkian’s escapades in the 1990s, several sets of elderly people decided to end their lives together and on their terms, including an elderly couple in San Diego who used a commercially available suicide kit. The reason for their suicide wasn’t reported, but it really doesn’t matter either. It’s their business. Our role as a society is to encourage them to live and to help make their lives worth living, but, in the end, the decision to check out is theirs’ alone.
Putting aside all that, I’ll be so bold as to offer a practice pointer for a fulfilling life: realize that, if you’re lucky, you have about 80 good years in you – and then work backward from there. Figure out where you want to be at the end, what you want to achieve, what your priorities are, and plan accordingly. Along those lines, I’m reminded of George Eastman, the inventor of roll film and founder of Eastman Kodak. After achieving incredible success in his personal and professional life, then suffering from a painful degenerative spinal condition that he had seen consume his mother, he committed suicide. He left a note that read, “To my friends: my work is done. Why wait?”