Originally published January 2, 2015
When first diagnosed with PD some 14 years ago, I remember being plagued for weeks by thoughts of my last days. I couldn’t deal with all of the horrors associated with end stage Parkinson’s. I still can’t. Yet, if there is any lesson I have learned, it’s to not precipitate about a future you cannot control. Further, as Michael J Fox has pointed out, there is little use in worrying about that now – to do so would mean you actually live through such horrors twice – once in the present and again when you actually arrive at that point.
Of late, though, as PD has taken more of a toll, and as I have seen friends and family dealing with issues of mortality, I find it hard not to drift back to thoughts of death and dying. Not in an obsessive way nor centered on my state of health in those “dying days”. More focused on consideration of how I am to live the rest of my years. What is it that makes my life valuable? What is it that I can offer that makes my life meaningful? How long will I want to live in advanced years with a declining body and mind?
Recently, I heard an interesting interview on CBC radio’s The Sunday edition with Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who says that he wants to die at age 75. He is currently 57 years old, apparently quite active, has no terminal illness and no plans to commit suicide. Yet he says that he would be doing society and loved ones a favour by dying at 75. “A good life is not just about stacking up the years and living as long as possible. People need to focus on quality of life,” he says. “Setting an actual date for a good time to die helps you focus on what is important in your life.”
He says when he reaches 75 he will refuse all tests and treatments, including the blood pressure medication he takes now. He’s not suggesting people kill themselves at 75 but, rather, let nature take its course. As the CBC interview points out, it’s a controversial stance, but one that resonates in an age when medical science can prolong life, but often at the cost of quality of life.
If you want to hear the full interview, you can listen here.
So, what’s a good time to die?