Don't know about you, but I for one will be glad when this month is over. January has been a trying one: my step-dad was taken to hospital on the 2nd, discharged to a hospice a couple of weeks later where he died a few days after, and about half of those in attendance at his private funeral quickly developed and spread a virulent strain of flu. Thus, not a great start to the year. But his death and long-time suffering (he was 94 and had deteriorated a lot both physically and mentally over the last few years) has made me think more about what would make for a "good" death, or perhaps more importantly, a good life. I know this isn't a cheerful post, but I'm hoping that writing out some of my seriously scrambled thoughts will help somehow. Please bear with me.
My step-dad did not have what I would consider a good death; passing away quickly and painlessly while asleep in your own bed. Instead, his death was slow, lingering, and uncomfortable. Despite strong Christian beliefs he was clearly afraid (and hence struggled against death even though having difficulty swallowing and breathing), and I don't believe he was at peace. It was hard to watch (and certain images of him in my brain I wish I could erase) and it made me sad because I know most people would not let their cat or dog suffer in a similar way. And isn't it odd that while it's considered humane to end your animal companion's life when they are visibly in pain and there's no chance of regaining health, it's murder to end a human's life. Is that because we view animals as personal property to be disposed of when and how we want? And yet, our compassion lets us relieve them of suffering when appropriate, while some people are doomed to struggle to the end.
Conversely, billions of animals are sent to their early, painful, and unnecessary deaths precisely because many do think of them as property. They too struggle to stay alive, but unlike my ailing step-dad, have long and healthy lives in front of them snatched away prematurely. There's no choice for them, and that's a crime. Each sentient being should have some say (barring accidents and natural causes of course) in when and how they would like to live and die, or have as in the case of companion animals, someone who has their (hopefully) best interest at heart.
I also believe that in the name of supposed progress, we try to extend natural human life beyond what is necessary at both ends of the spectrum. Babies now come into the world that wouldn't have survived a hundred years ago, and we do our best to have everyone live a hundred years or more (percentage-wise the biggest growing segment of the population I believe), and for what? Okay, I can understand the what somewhat, but the how I have a real problem with -- in trying to extend the human life span at any cost the human animal feels it's perfectly acceptable to research and experiment on other species without their consent, and even use their body parts if so required. Good grief!
Why should other species have to pay the price for us wanting to live longer? And frankly, I don't. Having watched both my parents grow older and grapple with a host of physical problems in addition to aging-related dementia, I don't want any part of it. Hit me with the proverbial bus if you will, please, but I have no desire to be in my eighties or nineties if I don't have all my faculties intact and can't do the things that are most important to me: think, create, communicate and interact rationally. Now I'm not a young twenty-something who can't even imagine being old, but at 48 am clearly aware of my mortality and have seen aging and death up close. By the way, I'm seriously considering donating my body to medical school when I die to: a) offset the cost of a funeral (do you know how expensive it is to be buried?), and b) offer my body as a research or teaching tool. While b) may be more of a symbolic gesture on my part, there are now veterinary schools where you can donate the remains of your companion animals so that fewer live animals get used in their programs. Good idea?
Another question I find myself asking in the midst of all this death is what constitutes a good life. Because while we don't have a lot of control over our death, we certainly have a bigger say in how we live our life and how we impact the lives of others. If nothing else, this past month has made me even more committed to helping end the unnecessary death of so many. I'm proud to be vegan, and proud to be a part of a growing social justice movement that values ALL species.
Thank you for reading. Hope to catch up on your blogs and email soon!