Friday, December 16, 2011

The Right to Die

Last week I had lunch with two former colleagues in social work with whom I worked for about thirty years. As often happens, part of the conversation involved stories of colleagues who have either died or have serious health problems. I want to stress the word "part" because I have shared the common negative perception that death and illness occupy most conversation of the elderly. One of the "benefits" of having lived through the Aid's epidemic is the realization that being acutely aware of mortality and illness is not an exclusive characteristic of the elderly, but forms a part of anyone's life at any age who has come face to face with those vulnerabilities. While, at one point in my life, I would have reacted with distaste to such a topic of conversation, since the experience with Aid's and becoming elderly myself, I am more comfortable with the naturalness of sharing those concerns, as long as the topic doesn't become the predominant focus of the conversation.

Just one block from my home there is a chronic care facility that would be most accurately described as a warehouse for people. It is a concrete structure of Stalinist-era architectural design, ten stories tall, with small windows. It houses mostly the elderly and some physically handicapped whom it has been determined cannot live on their own. While the rooms of residents on the upper eight floors are not air conditioned, the staff floors have windows fitted with air conditioners. Imagine the stifling heat and over whelming odours of the patient floors on hot Summer days, when the building stands totally exposed to the heat of the sun. Sometimes, as I walk by with my dog, Zoe, I hear the moaning of residents, who have, evidently, not been adequately meditated into tranquility. That establishment serves as a portent for me of an end of life care that I would  dread and would not want to survive to experience.