Close your eyes and count to 10,
breathe in, breathe out.
Outside the window, the raven flutters its wings,
a downward spiral of black.
7, 8, 9, 10.
You look at the veins in your hands.
“My hands used to be so beautiful”, you think.
Now, spotted with age, medicinal narcotics, and chemotherapy, they are twisted things with ugly snaking veins – those vessels that take blood away from the tips of your fingers.
Recently, your country resurrected the debate about euthanasia. “Should euthanasia be legalised?” Students have exhausted perspectives in their essay examinations, while articulate orators have fiercely battled this notion in bloody debate arenas.
Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that Singaporeans need to discuss moral and ethical dilemmas even as his ministry places end-of-life issues on its agenda.
Most religions have expressed their disapproval.
The Archbishop of the Catholic Church in Singapore Nicholas Chia said in a letter to his congregation: “One cannot choose death and ask to be killed. When they do this, they are not only committing the crime of suicide, but also compounding it by making another person a partner in a crime.”
It’s easy to say these words when death and serious illness are distant notions, you think.
It’s harder to vocalise those words when life becomes an excruciating routine of pain and a cocktail of drugs that leave you in a permanent state of semi-consciousness. The bills lie unopened at the dining table—the cost of dying.
Don’t people get it? They’re missing the whole point entirely, you think.
At this point, you don’t care whether it’s right or not. You don’t care whether you’ll burn in hell, if you even believe in one.
You read somewhere in the papers about hospice and palliative care, but not much. Too little attention is given to such alternatives. Marine Parade GRC Member of Parliament (MP) Dr Fatimah Lateef said in Parliament that young doctors are not keen because it’s not lucrative. She added that the issue with the dying lies with low awareness and not cost.
Is that true? Will you really want to die in a hospice?
When Mieneke Weide-Boelkes had cancer, she chose to die at home by euthanasia rather than to die in a hospice. Her son had published an explicit account of events preceding his mother’s death in The Guardian.
Even if palliative care is a viable option, it clearly needs more money and resources. Only $5 million in subsidies was budgeted for hospice care last year.
However, this is a solution to a problem that need not exist. Illness is not the only reason people think of prematurely ending their lives.
“There comes a time when life to the elderly is meaningless… and he or she does not want it anymore,” Janet Sng, 72, wrote to The Straits Times. Another person sent a desperate appeal to Khaw, written in dramatic red ink, begging him to legalise euthanasia.
“By writing in red ink, he probably wanted to convey his message of anguish and pain,” said the Health Minister to The Straits Times.
Why do some elderly, even some who aren’t seriously ill, want euthanasia? Do we have a comprehensive financial, emotional and mental support structure integrated into society? Or have we overlooked such issues in our pursuit of dispassionate efficiency?
If we don’t integrate a support system in our society, it doesn’t matter whether euthanasia is legalised because overwhelming pain, be it physical, mental, financial, or emotional, detaches people from reality and brings them to the cradle of suicide whether that is legal or not.
You no longer think of death. When you look into future, you don’t see your funeral or the suicide letter.
You see the empty room, wiped clean and deserted, your bed neatly made. You hear the mobile phone and its dead ringtone. You feel the void at home, noticeable for a while before blending into the background, like shadows before dawn.
Last year, 87 elderly people killed themselves out of loneliness and depression.
Pain. That’s what everyone ultimately fears the most.
So much more than death.
7, 8, 9, 10
Close your eyes and count to ten…
then kiss the night goodbye.
I am not trying to support or protest euthanasia in this article, and certainly not encouraging suicide. I want to convey the perspective of an elderly person because this perspective is often overlooked in favour of distracting arguments of morality and the right to die.
There are a few points I want to convey:
- The perspective of a dying elderly person
- How legalisation shouldn’t be an issue; why do people want euthanasia should be the issue; the legalisation debate is cliched and worn thin.
- That it is easy to quickly rule euthanasia out when serious illness is a distant notion, less easy when it hits close to home.
- Hospice care can help but we need to address emotional barriers and that too little efforts and money is devoted to it.
- Euthanasia is an extension of suicide wishes that a lot of elderly people have – strong enough wishes that they should write passionate letters to ministers and newspapers.
- We need to have a support system in society otherwise it doesn’t matter if we legalise euthanasia or not. More elderly people have been committing suicide and will continue to do so.
I chose to write this article from the position of a dying elderly person because it’s the fastest way to immerse you in the story, connecting you to emotional nuances that cold hard facts cannot express.
Young people with grandparents at home, whether terminally ill or otherwise, might identify with this story, especially where loneliness is concerned. According to a Oct 08 The Straits Times report, most of 87 elderly people who committed suicide last year did so because of loneliness and depression.
Most often, we think that we are immortals with the help of technology; the elderly becomes invisible in this growing world of power, knowledge, and efficiency.
We are certainly not immortals. And if we don’t do enough for the elderly, we might one day be in their shoes…and tempted to use the very technology that we thought would make us immortals to end our lives.
Image courtesy of Lee Xian Jie