Watch this video of a 94-year-old man in an epic 65-meter footrace last year.
Would it sadden you to know the winner, European masters athletics champion Emiel Pauwels, is now dead? And that he deliberately ended his own life a week or so ago?
Pauwels looked like he was ready to run another race but wanted to end his life before the cancer really got a hold of him.
His son Eddy told Belgian television that he ‘agreed 110 per cent’ with his father’s decision to end his own life.
Pauwels had been bedridden the past couple of months with stomach cancer. His choice was based on the certain knowledge that he wasn’t going to be getting well, and that whatever discomfort he was experiencing was only going to get worse.
(I chuckled at one indelicate but somewhat humorous headline: Emiel Pauwels, 95-year-old sprinter, euthanized after winning gold medal. Sounds like he broke a leg in the race and had to be put down like a horse.)
I am much in favor of every individual retaining the power to end his own life, and I like to know there are sane places in the world where such a choice is respected, even honored.
I don’t live in one of those sane places, and it saddens me to think of the people who might exercise this freedom, who might NEED it to escape intractable pain and progressive indignity, but who cannot. Over the final four days I sat with my Dad, a strong-willed, wonderful, much-loved man who refused all intervention beyond morphine, I watched him suffer at length and die slowly. I asked the hospital staff at least twice if there was anything more that could be done, and the people I talked to slid away from answering, as I know they had to.
I wish I could say something more profound about it, but … lives end. They do. Where I live they end all too often with all dignity and individuality stripped away by a system that insists we do not have this choice, should not have this choice.
I see this as an avoidance of clear thinking on the subject, and I see that as the direct result of religion.
Once you get religion out of your head, once you step outside the religious paradigm and start looking back at what’s there, it’s obvious that the socio-cultural EFFECTS of god-belief persist, even in societies that don’t see themselves as powerfully religious.
Here in the U.S., one of our socio-cultural remnants is the idea that “suicide” is a sin, that “God’s will” must be respected to the bitter, painful end, even for those we already know — who they themselves already know — will die in medically-extended agony.
I’d like to see that change.
Belgium has a fairly sane view of the thing (story):
Euthanasia, for medical reasons, has been legal in Belgium since 2002 for people over the age of 18. More than 1400 people a year choose to be euthanized. Last year, the Belgium senate voted to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children as well. The vote passed overwhelmingly in the senate and is now being hotly debated in the lower house of parliament. If the bill passes, Belgium will become the first nation in the world that legally allows people of any age to be euthanized.