Quality of Life Matters

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I just saw in incredibly painful movie about a woman slowly dying of
strokes. It was a beautifully done French movie, and she had a loving
husband to take care of her. But by halfway through this very slow
drama she is lying around in wet diapers, moaning incoherently in
pain, trying to track a nursery rhyme. I know everyone says they don’t
want to live—die– like that, but it seems that most people do. Is there
anything I can do to escape a fate like this, which is my worst
nightmare? I think I could deal with pain better than the indignity of
losing my sense of self. But why should we have to balance out the
various bad ways to spend our last few years. BTW I am single and
lack the loving caretaker the dying woman in the movie had. That’s
part of why I am scared.

Quality of Life Matters

Dear Quality of Life Matters:

This is serious stuff. Everyone faces death and no one has found an
easy way to cope with it. At the risk of sounding grim, most people’s
last days, weeks, months, or even years before dying are less
pleasant, pain-free, and autonomous than their peak years. The
number of ways to become debilitated are many and though their
variations are unique to each person, they almost always involve more
medical treatments/people and less of a sense of dignity than any of
us would wish for ourselves or loved ones. Having a loving spouse or
child and a healthy bank account can make the process better, but
very few people are spared by drifting off painlessly one night in their

You can investigate the idea of death with dignity. Some states allow
assisted suicide in cases of terminal diagnoses. Many other people
have taken steps to ensure their own demise. Here’s the catch-22:
when you are healthy you are unlikely to take those steps. A sound
mind in a sound body wants to live. So it turns out does an unsound
mind in an unsound body. And once you’ve shifted into the latter
state, you have less access to means and opportunity, even if your
motives remain the same. This is a very difficult subject for
individuals and families. If you start conversations with family you’ll
find out very quickly who thinks death with dignity is a viable option
and who is horrified that you’re even interested in learning about it.
That alone will be instructive.