Kevin Drum, assisted suicide and... me

I normally send our readers to stories which are either interesting, entertaining, enraging or at least – hopefully – informative and applicable to topics of import in the conservative sphere. Today I would direct your attention to one which may or may not fall into any of the above categories and most certainly isn’t entertaining. It’s a lengthy article by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones which will likely be very hard to read because it deals with a touchy subject, relating directly to Kevin and his family… assisted suicide. California recently passed an end of life law along these lines (which I wrote about at the time) and it has a lot to do with this story.

This is normally the point in most articles where I would include an excerpt from the article in question and tag off the pertinent points. I’ve read the entire thing twice and I’m unable to do that today. You can read the entire article here and I hope you do, but there is no one piece that speaks to the entire story.

I’ll begin by saying that I don’t know Kevin Drum and to the best of my recollection I’ve never met him. I do read a lot of his material, however, and I can comfortably say that we don’t agree on much in the political sphere. But on this subject we can set all of that aside. The article has to do with his father-in-law – at least in the beginning – and his battle with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow. He fought it tooth and claw but it got the better of him in the end and he wound up taking his own life.

That part is pretty hard to read, but it doesn’t end there. You see, Keven has been diagnosed with the same disease. He’s been going through some very rough, aggressive treatment programs and hope still exists, but it doesn’t sound like a long term hope in the best of cases and Mr. Drum (who is about my age) knows that he may be facing the same choices in the not unimaginably distant future.

I’ve written a number of articles on the subject, generally to highly negative reviews from conservatives here and elsewhere. Kevin does a yeoman’s job of covering much of the history of the science behind assisted suicide and the legal battles which surround it. I’ve covered some of them here in the past and there’s no need to go into them again. But what I am able to do is share a parallel set of tales which compel me to comment on Drum’s column. They begin with my dad.

I’ve written about my father here many times for various reasons. He was a warrior who went to fight the Nazis in WW2 before he was technically even old enough to do so and returned home, alive but wounded in multiple ways, with decorations to show for his service. He was an accomplished mechanical engineer and occasional inventor. He was a father and a strict disciplinarian, not without his own set of faults, but a man in the truest sense of the word who did his best to guide a family through the world. It was a remarkable life.

But what I’ve rarely if ever mentioned is his death. After facing multiple surgeries for a medical condition which finally wore him down, my father went up into the bedroom of the house where I grew up and set one of his .30-06 hunting rifles between his knees, put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He told nobody in advance and my mother found him. She was really never the same after that.

The second part of the story is that of my mother, which (as many of our very compassionate and regular readers know) ended two days before Christmas last month. She had been plagued with severe dementia and, while there had been many early warning signs, she spent the last five years of her life in some mysterious place which none of us could reach. Her physical health deteriorated slowly during that period until she eventually succumbed. Her youngest brother attended the services, but he is already far along that path and didn’t recognize any of us there. Those two are the youngest of eight children and two others suffered the same fate. Another thing I haven’t mentioned in public is that this situation prompted a conversation between me and my siblings which I’d already had with my wife. Sitting in the parlor of the funeral home with my bride, my brother an my sister, I made one solemn pronouncement in front of my mother’s coffin. “I’m not going out like that.”

That brings us to the third and last portion of the story. My brother, should you ever meet him, looks a lot like my father. His side of the family didn’t seem to suffer from such mental degradation issues. My dad’s parents made it into their nineties with their faculties intact and my brother, well into his sixties is sharp as a tack. I, on the other hand… well, if you ever look at a picture of me and my mom you’ll see that the fruit didn’t fall far from the tree there. And in the past few years I’ve already seen a doctor myself to little avail. I’ve noticed my memory starting to go. I call some of our pets by the wrong names. My wife talks about events which happened twenty years ago and I realize that I have no recollection of them. Absolutely zero. Little pieces begin to fall away. I’m told by reliable authorities that this is how it begins, though there are thankfully generally a fair number of years ahead for most people before it gets out of control.

I have no intention of sitting in a home somewhere and withering away, lost in some playground beyond the reach of the real world, waiting for my vital functions to fail and being little more than a burden and painful open wound for my wife and the rest of my family. I’ve already had this discussion with my wife and she is, thankfully, an understanding and forgiving angel. I only hope that society has progressed to the point where it’s not too much of a herculean effort just to get the job done. The methods involved don’t matter so much to me and can be sorted out for each individual as we go along. The path my father chose seems rather… daunting. But then again, Dad came into this world with gigantic balls of solid brass. I’m not sure I inherited them. I just know I’d like the choice to be mine, much along the same lines as the feelings that Kevin Drum invoked. And I don’t want to leave my wife in the same boat my mother was in after he took the final exit.

I completely understand the slippery slope fears and arguments about getting the government too heavily involved which I hear from our readers when this subject comes up. We absolutely don’t want to open the door to greedy relatives giving a wealthy family member the bum’s rush out the door or doctors or health insurance representatives putting a load of guilt on the sick to spare everyone else the trouble. I’d just like to see a system where the individuals facing that difficult, terminal decision have the opportunity to meet their mortality on their own terms in their own time. Surely there is some way that could be managed.

As to you with religious or moral concerns, I understand your argument but I do not agree with it. If you want to call my father a coward, I defy you to say it aloud. I also pray for you if you find yourself facing the same test and see your moral certitude wavering. If you feel that such a course condemns one to hell then I can only hope that dad kept a seat warm for me. But no matter how you view it, it’s time for the government to set aside some of our antiquated prejudices and realize that a society which treasures the rights of the living as we do should also find room to allow for the freedom to meet the end in the manner they see fit.


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