I want all the help I can get when it’s my time to die.

I have long believed that assisted dying deserves a prominent place when talking about death. The idea that anyone should suffer until death comes naturally is barbaric. Approximately 1.7% of the population die from suicide. I thought it would be higher, more like 4 or 5%. Around 8% of us die from accidents. An estimated 25% die prematurely due to disease and illness. The rest of us, roughly 65%, die from old age. 

Old age is not nearly as old as many of us like to think. Geriatric medicine begins at the age of 65. Globally about 43% of the population makes it to age 70. This means roughly 57% of us do not.


In the Netherlands, there is ongoing discussion at the highest levels of government for what they are calling the 'Completed Life' pill. I like the sound of this, 'Completed Life' very much. This would give anyone age 70 and older the legal right to receive lethal poison, without involving medical professionals beyond the prescription. This long article from The Guardian, titled, 'Death on Demand: Has euthanasia gone too far'?, talks about this and other issues associated with assisted dying.


From what I have observed, life does not get better with age once we hit our sixth decade. For starters, nearly 95% of people 60 and older have at least one chronic health condition. 80% of us have two or more. I have four. Even without health issues, most of us don't have enough financial resources and support to live comfortably into very old age. As those we love die or become increasingly disabled; as we spend more time managing, repairing and replacing our aging parts; as we prop ourselves up through pain; weakness; loss of hearing; fading vision and broken teeth; as we burn through our money and assets; as options and opportunities associated with everything we love shrink, so does the joy of living. 


This is a story about a seventy-four year old woman who chose assisted dying at a clinic in Switzerland. According to her daughter, who wrote the story, she was not a good mother. Possibly her most selfless act was to choose assisted dying when she decided she no longer wanted to live. I have read many stories about assisted dying, this is one of the best, penned by Evelyn Jouvenet (an apparent pseudonym) for New York Magazine. There’s an excellent audio version leading into the story which I chose to listen to. 



The clinic referenced in the above story is Pegasos. The clinic I know the most about is Dignitas. Apparently there is also Lifecircle. For those who would like help with the paperwork, Exit International, started in Australia, assists people with the application process. Pegasos says they have native English speakers on staff, separating them from other assisted dying clinics. A good selling point for English speakers. 


One would need around $20 - $25K in 2024 to cover flights, hotels, the actual procedure, cremation, etc. To do it in grand style, as I would hope to do, decidedly more. The clinics like you to bring your own witness. I would have no problem accompanying anyone in my orbit who made this choice. When the time comes, I may make this choice for myself. I appreciate the tidiness of it. No muss, no fuss. Likely as good a death as one could hope to achieve. Better than most.


Would you contemplate assisted dying? 
Under what conditions would you consider it? 
If I found myself unable to live a satisfying life; if I no longer felt grateful to be alive; If I were suffering and could see no end to it, I would opt for assisted dying. I wish everyone had this option, along with euthanasia; palliative care and hospice. Rather than extending life beyond our seventies, I'd like to see us invest considerably more resources in end-of-life care. Let's gift everyone with a death doula when we hit 75 and see how we get on from there.
I write this while dealing with a ton of issues associated with my obstinate 95 year old dad. He has claimed he wants to die for the past several years, while doing everything possible to keep himself alive. The more he deteriorates, the more difficult he becomes for everyone, clinging to a life that has lost all gratitude and grace. He is a cautionary tale of why achieving a very long life is a very bad idea. 
It's not natural to be old when our children are old. Nobody actually says this, but it's true. Not only does the world not have enough resources for old, very old and ancient people, most families don't have the resources to care for three or four generations. Our responsibility as elders is to help give the next generation a leg up; rescue abandoned animals; fight for libraries and abortions ---- not to constantly hoist ourselves up on stronger backs. Why be so greedy? 


At some point the world will not be able to contain so many old people. Currently there are an estimated 62 million people in America 65 and older. That's 18% of the population. Britain's elder population is about the same. By 2050, it's estimated that this number will soar to 23 - 25% for both the US and UK. That's not sustainable. There will be culling. Maybe voluntary. Maybe not. 1 in 4 of us simply cannot be old for all the obvious reasons. There are not enough resources to go around. Full stop. 

Apparently the terms old, elderly and senior irritate so many old people that the media has taken to calling us ‘older adults’. This strikes me as ridiculous. Old is honest. It literally means to have lived a long time. It’s an achievement to no longer be young.


Several years ago The Atlantic published an excellent essay on this topic. It's titled, 'When Does Somebody Become Old'? Of all the people I know in their sixties and beyond, I can only think of two others who, like me, are comfortable calling themselves old. One just turned sixty-nine and the other is my 95 year old dad. 


Perhaps if we know from the get-go that we are allotted a maximum of 75 years on the planet, perhaps we will live our lives differently. Perhaps we will have the grace and wisdom to accept we have 'completed life’. I’ll happily be a test case for this in a few years time. Meanwhile there are death cafes, end of life doulas, local hospice, assisted dying clinics, and a host of excellent books, podcasts and documentaries on this topic to help defuse our fear of dying and do the noble thing when the time comes.