Saturday, April 24, 2010

Suicide as a Long-Term Care Plan

Earlier this year I went to a talk about long-term care insurance.

On my way to the bus I caught up with one of the other attendees, a woman in her late 40’s. She commented that the talk was very interesting but irrelevant since she had long ago decided to commit suicide when she started to decline into old age.

I wish I had a dollar from everyone who has told me this is their plan to cope with the vicissitudes of aging. Suddenly three separate reactions vied for expression---like a Three Stooges episode where they are all trying to get through the door at the same time.

Anger. Perplexity. Compassion.

Anger because I have seen the aftermath of suicides. It is not a peaceful panacea. It seems to me as if the person embracing this strategy has already cut themselves off from the land of the living. Note: I am not talking about end-of-life issues resulting from terminal illness.

Perplexity because this woman is obviously educated and has resources. So many of the declines simply require supports. If one can’t drive---there are cabs. If one can’t hear---there are medical devices. I have had clients tell me that if they can’t drive that will be the signal that it is time to kill themselves. I usually ask “You’d rather die than take a cab?

Compassion because I sense the almost primal fear and dread that underlie this kind of decision.

In the meantime we are making our way to the bus.

I turned to her and asked: What if, when you get to old age, you change your mind?

Why not make a plan just in case? Wouldn’t you like to have a choice?

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