On Choosing Death

There is a man I know — a very good faith-filled man —  who is choosing to die. He has been a dialysis patient for over 10 years and is not a transplant candidate. He has slowly watched the quality of his life ebb over those ten years and has finally decided to stop dialysis.

This is a man who some would say is not intelligent, having tested with an IQ score of 82. However, this is also the man who one day asked me “How is the mind like a parachute?” I shrugged my shoulders and he smiled and said “When it’s open!” Pretty wise. I have told him over time that he has a very high level of emotional intelligence, a fact he reflected when noting that those he needed to talk to about his decision might need to express some grief of their own (as did I).

My friend approached his decision in a very thorough manner, talking to people at the dialysis center, people at the nursing home where he lives, his brother, and his pastor. When he first discussed this decision with me, he indicated his church planned to have a healing ceremony with him. When he returned after that time of prayer over him, he was more settled and at peace with his decision. I told him the healing had worked. He said that, of all the people he’d talked to, the only one who was angry about his decision was his medical doctor. My friend displayed full awareness that the process of dying would be painful and could take a few weeks. Nonetheless, he was ready

As I gave him a hug, I told him that I fully supported his decision and that Jesus was waiting for him with open arms. I assured him that he was completely rational and that this was not an extension of the suicidal thoughts he’d had in years past.

When my father was into his third year of dementia, my cousin mentioned “Some of us live too long.” This was true of my dad. It’s also true of my friend. Modern medicine is indeed a miracle but at what price?

The beauty of this man is that he is not just suddenly paying attention to the quality of his life at the end. I have known him for 20 years and have watched him overcome mental illness and a history of childhood trauma while trying to embrace life as he joyfully rode his bicycle about town.

I am not a believer in suicide as a solution to life’s problems. But my friend has challenged me to consider to what degree I am  obliged to prolong life, my own in particular, if quality is absent. I can only hope that, if I am ever faced with such a decision, I will face it with the same degree of courage as my friend.

Reflection: Have you had any experiences with people choosing death?