Today is the second anniversary of my grandmother's death. She suffered from Alzheimer's for about a year and a half before she passed away, which was a rough time for me and my family. I've been racking my brain all day, trying to find the right words, the right emotions. Among concepts like pain, loss, and love, I found one word I find particularly important, politically, morally, and emotionally: euthanasia.
It's not easy to understand what it's like, for someone who hasn't known a person suffering from Alzheimer's or similar. In a way, death is merciful; losing a loved one in a heart attack or car crash is like one quick stab to the heart, while losing a loved one to Alzheimer's is like keeping your heart in a box of needles. That's not to say losing a loved one is a picnic or that the pain just goes away; if you lose someone, you will live with that for the rest of your life. But the actual loss is dragged out over months or even years, when dealing with Alzheimer's; closure is impossible, until after the moment of death.
When Alzheimer's progresses, whoever the person was, whatever thoughts they had, all that was in their hearts withers away with their brain; they are for all intents and purposes dead, except they're not. You see them regularly, but at the same time you don't. They're like a stranger wearing your loved one's face as a mask, though that old person you loved peeks through every now and then. They're like a record with a deep scratch, so that the same incoherent, small piece of what they once were plays on repeat, again and again and again and again.
Even other diseases that take a long time to kill, like cancer, do not have this effect. Horrible as it may be, a cancer patient (unless it's a brain tumor) is the same person as before (they're at least lucid and capable of thought and conversation). Alzheimer's is literally like watching your loved one die in slow motion; it's dragged out over weeks, months, even years.
I don't want to downplay the horrors of cancer and death in general. Death is horrible as it is, without the need for any justification. You shouldn't really compare your own individual suffering with someone else's. Of course someone may have it worse off than you, but that won't ease your suffering; it should, in fact, make you feel even worse. What I want to do is make a short case for euthanasia.
I know many people are against death help, often on religious grounds or because of a delusion that it's harmful somehow. You don't have to support assisted suicide for healthy adults. But terminally ill patients who will suffer immensely their last miserable months on this planet should have the option to end such a miserable existence. Patients who for all intents and purposes are dead shells of people walking around should have their life ended if they've expressed this wish when they were lucid. We live for ourselves, not anyone else; forcing someone to prolong a painful life only for the sake of living is morally heinous, or at least misdirected.
I read a blog post by Godless Mom about a month ago. It was on the topic of euthanasia and was titled "Good Christian Daughter Says We Want to Kill the Elderly". It's a great read and makes a good case for euthanasia, while tackling a frustrating argument against it: "You want to kill old people." I commented on her blog post, saying:
My own grandmother, who passed away a couple years ago, suffered from Alzheimer's and was definitely not herself and didn't have any quality of life. It was tough on my entire family and my grandmother was barely a person anymore, just a shadow of who she was before, who couldn't take care of herself and cried a lot. While I cannot say if she would have wanted to end said miserable existence, I can say that to force anyone to live like that is inhumane.
Funny how Christianity is associated with charity and being good, when it seems more often than not to force people to accept a miserable existence they do not want and cannot change. I was saddened when my grandmother died, but it also came as a relief, not because I wanted her to die, but because she was in very significant ways already dead and was now a shell of a person who suffered every day. Suicide is a multifaceted issue and some people just cannot comprehend that.
No one wants to kill their loved ones. Euthanasia is not about fulfilling a lust for killing or removing someone who is a "burden" on you. If you love someone, they are never a burden, after all. Euthanasia is about bodily autonomy and letting each human being control their own fate. If I were to suffer the same fate as my grandmother, if I were to lose myself to a disease that rots away all that makes me me, then I would want my life to be ended; that's my choice, not someone else's.
The moral course of action is to offer death help to those who might need it. Forcing people to suffer a terrible existence they do not want so you don't have to feel bad about "supporting death" is heinous. It's even worse if you're against euthanasia because your religion says suicide is sinful. What you're doing is pushing your religious beliefs on people who don't want them and forcing people to suffer pointlessly, only for the arbitrary fact that your god thinks suicide is bad, even if one will die soon, anyway.
Continue to rest in peace, beloved grandmother.
I hope I shall never ever forget you.