Life, When You Long for Euthanasia
A strong-willed and kind-hearted woman, Claire Morisette was dedicated to clean transportation and is a co-founder of both Cyclo-Nord-Sud and CommunAuto.
I had a brush with death in the winter of 2004-05, when breast cancer spread to my bones and liver. I also watched my father die from a generalized cancer after running through the full range of medical treatments, until the very end. Here is what I learned from those experiences.
Suffering is a lot like shivering. You curl up, your whole body contracts, from your scalp down to your feet. It HURTS!!! And the pain is constant. This shivering saps all your strength, all your attention, it’s exhausting. Think about it: would you tolerate shivering for ten days, twenty days, two months, years on end?
Then comes the morphine shot. It’s like a heat wave that frees you from the shivering, like a welcome relaxation on an open beach. “Thank you!!! Oh! Thank you!!! It feels so good!!!”. But be careful, you have to behave. Because if you open your eyes, it’s all vertigo, the room is spinning, nausea takes hold of you and can make you vomit. Another inconvenience: constipation clamps your stomach, tortures your anus. And the relief is short-lived. After three hours, it would be time for another injection, but the nurse has to wait four hours … and so you start to shiver again. And then, there’s drug tolerance. The dosage needs to be increased, you start to hallucinate, you become confused, half-deranged (I saw my father in this state).
Disgrace and pestilence
Throughout this time, your body becomes a shell. Lacking appetite and exercise, you start to melt. In the mirror, you see a skeleton, like those people in concentration camps (I’m not exaggerating); no more butt to sit on, your breasts are deflated, there’s no comfort with those boney knees, except with a pillow between your legs. Skin shrivels, begins to wrinkle all over. How humiliating. Even worse: because of the medication, your urine, stools, flatulence, breath, and vomit all smell like the end of the world, and you subject your caregivers to this smell, a deep humiliation. If you have to defecate in bed in a dry bedpan, the stench is indescribable and someone else then wipes your butt, which is even more humiliating.
Your tank is empty. You need three sessions to wash a small batch of dishes, because this work requires too much cardio!!! You can’t make meals, clean the house, or do any kind of work. At the beginning, you read, you watch DVDs, you try to adapt and enjoy things differently. Then, reading becomes too tiring. All you want now is to sink into a deep sleep, into unconsciousness and, why not, into nothingness.
The people around you
Everyone is upset. They are there, doing their best. It’s hard for them to accept their helplessness, they sneak away to cry, even if you try to create a more “matter of fact” atmosphere. Their grief is painful to watch.
Dying of hunger or thirst?
Once conventional medicine has run through all treatment options, you are left to break down in a “natural” way. Your organs fail and you discover other pains, other disappointments. Morphine makes you half-deranged and you’re not even really there anymore. Ultimately, medicine will leave you to die of hunger or thirst. If you accept the hydration solution, you will starve, which may take 30 to 90 days. If you refuse to be hydrated, you will die of thirst in some 10 to 20 days, in a state of prostration that I don’t dare imagine. Throughout all this, people come and go by your bedside. They are experiencing acute and prolonged grief.
Ending it yourself
If you look for them, you can easily find guides that analyze all forms of suicide, according to their effectiveness (you don’t want to miss your shot) and their potential to reduce trauma for loved ones. Here, you have to act pretty quick, while you are still capable of carrying out the final act, which requires a special kind of courage. There’s also the difficult task of making sure loved ones are not incriminated. How do you get someone to hold your hand in those final moments, while protecting them from murder charges? I’m sure you see the cruel nature of this dilemma… You have to be careful about everything, right down to the fingerprints!
Death is also a part of life
I’m going to die, and I know it. One day, you will die too. Did you know that? People who proclaim, “Life, life!” often seem to be avoiding—at all costs—confronting death, this final stage of life. Death is unavoidable, and preparing for it is wise. Instead of horror, my research and reading about death have brought me a sense of inner peace. You can succeed in death as you succeed in life. You can bow out feeling fulfilled. All those who have had a brush with death speak of it as a pleasant experience. There are only two ways to approach it: with terror and panic or with courage and curiosity. I am cultivating the latter, although I know that I am not immune to the former.
The wisdom of aging
There is great wisdom in the aging body: fatigue, pain, and degeneration make death a friend, a deliverance, a blessing. Isn’t that beautiful??? While I agree that an overly hasty death can feel like a scandal and a tragedy, when you are nearing the end of your life, you start to see it all with a new perspective.
Preparing for death
For me, this involved mourning all that is dear to me: my lover, my brothers, my sister, nephews and nieces, my friends, my work, my house, my little pleasures, big things and small trinkets, EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING will be taken from me! And I cried for about a month. And then? Crying is boring, and you get tired of it. After a good cry, I felt at peace, I was letting go. And I “came back” to life, realizing how much everything I have is a gift, every minute is a bonus that I probably savour more than you do. (You want to bet?) But, for me, death finally feels normal.
Yes to euthanasia
Shivering, nausea, extreme weight loss, exhaustion, disgust, pestilence, and grieving loved ones … you call this “Life! Oh! Life!”? Sure, it’s still life, the other side of life, an unbearable side. And this is when people ask, quite reasonably, for their ticket into the afterlife.
If your dog were living in this state, you would let him go out of compassion. That’s all I am asking for: a little compassion. Please, a little pity and compassion. Please. Please. Please.
I hope that these thoughts have enlightened you on the serious issue that is euthanasia, and on its necessity, as a well-regulated step in a humane and civilized society, freed from the burden of taboos. Thank you.
Claire Morissette, June 15, 2007