Faye Girsh is the Founder and the Past President of the Hemlock Society of San Diego. She was the President of the National Hemlock Society (Defunct) and the World Federation of RTD Societies (Extant). Currently, she is on the Advisory Board of the Final Exit Network and the Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization. Here we talk about age, time, and death.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We get old. We die. Whether now or in the future, we will hit limits. We will realize or have realized physical or mental decline – how ever subtle through the wear of time. When does this realization hit people?
Faye Girsh: For some it’s when someone they care about declines, suffers, dies from a difficult condition. There are more ways to expose people now to the problems with prolonged dying — movies, books, public exchanges — are helping to bring people out of denial. But it is very slow.
Jacobsen: Does this never hit some people?
Girsh: And their loved ones. Though grief and loss are painful, some families are so unwilling to acknowledge that death is natural and unavoidable that when sickness, disability and death come they are in despair, shock, rage, denial. Religion and a belief in the afterlife can be a great comfort to help people “pass” since they know they will be “in the arms of Jesus” that there is “eternal life” and the loved ones will be reunited. Of course, religion which preaches the value of life — regardless of quality — or in the power of prayer, or that miracles will happen — does not make death easier to face.
Jacobsen: Are there sex and gender differences here? I note some nation-states where men die dramatically earlier than women, for instance.
Girsh: I don’t know any studies on gender differences in accepting death or on actual mortality.
Jacobsen: What are the first plans for individuals considering death in a rational manner?
Girsh: Start talking about in the home, around the death of pets, grandparents. Teach about how/why people die in the schools. Take kids to nursing homes, ICUs, hospices and see how fighting death vs accepting it can make a difference. Never deny that losing a person to death can be painful, heart breaking, disruptive, life-shattering. People should experience these emotions and go to grief support groups for help but still be able to have a rational attitude toward the inevitability of death.
Jacobsen: What reasons for Rational Suicide are completely irrational?
Girsh: I think it is not rational to consider ending a life where there is no long term physical or mental suffering, that it is done on impulse when life looks hopeless for a short time. It would be good to have suicidal people know they can help with a more peaceful, rather than a violent lonely one, if they could talk to someone who could present alternatives to their situations and also offer help for a peaceful death. I’m not sure we could agree on what’s rational although we are expanding our criteria for who is eligible for help to die. I live with old people, many of whom feel their lives are over and would be thankful for help and for acceptance but society is not ready to provide that. Dementia is the worst problem facing us now and a rational ending means taking your own life while it still has quality — really a sad thing to have to do. Someone said: May you live as long as you want to and may you want to as long as you live. Maybe too simplistic: it is complex question. Shakespeare dealt with it eloquently: To be or not to be…
Jacobsen: We can cover some more of this in the next session, perhaps, Faye.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Faye.
Girsh: And thanks for the little push. It’s helpful to ponder these profound questions.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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