Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Valuing the lives of the elderly

Above: Not Dead Yet display protesting assisted suicide

Fun fact: in addition to being a lawyer and a pro-life activist, I'm also a bit of a karaoke nut. I go out and sing on a weekly basis. I'm part of a regular crowd that follows the same "K.J." to different bars and restaurants. And because I happen to live in a popular area for retirees, most of my fellow regulars are older folks.

By older folks, I don't just mean old enough to be my parents, or my grandparents. No, I'm proud to say we have two 92-year-old WWII veterans: George and Frank. The latter speaks several languages and served as a translator at the Nuremberg trials. Today, he is always called up to the stage as "Sexy Frank Senior!"

Both use canes. A while ago, Frank had a nasty fall that kept him out of commission for months. I'm sure they have other health issues I'm not privy to. George finds the internet bewildering, and he has trouble keeping tempo when he sings. (We applaud anyway.) I consider them both friends, and respect them greatly. Their zest for life colors my perception of elderly people in general.

Tragically, that perception was not shared by 75-year-old British woman Gill Pharaoh. She killed herself to avoid, in her words, living past her "ideal shelf life." The suicide took place in Switzerland, which allowed Pharaoh to access lethal medication despite the fact that she had no terminal health condition.
In an interview before her death, she complained that her life was in decline as she was no longer enthusiastic about gardening, did not enjoy late dinner parties, and she had issues with tinnitus.
While acknowledging that these were ‘comparatively trivial’ complaints she said she wasn’t prepared to go further ‘downhill’. 
‘I do not think old age is fun. I have gone just over the hill now. It is not going to start getting better,’ she said. ‘I have looked after people who are old, on and off, all my life. I have always said, “I am not getting old. I do not think old age is fun.” I know that I have just gone over the hill now. It is not going to start to get better.’ 
I don't want to sound snide, but I hate gardening and late dinner parties, and I'm 27 years old.

It breaks my heart that she robbed herself and her loved ones of who knows how many years, because she assumed that old age wouldn't be "fun." I wish she had received life-affirming counseling. I wish she had given herself a chance.

I wish she could have come out to sing with us.

A few weeks ago, tragedy struck my karaoke family. When I heard that someone had died suddenly, my first thought was that Frank or George must have passed. I was wrong; shockingly, it was a healthy middle-aged singer, and the cause was suicide. He was always the life of the party. No one saw it coming.

I am used to thinking about the pro-life cause in terms of a helpless victim whose life is violently ended by the "crushing" force of an abortionist. But sometimes, the greatest threat to human life comes from within.

Suicide hotline:1-800-273-8255 

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