I retired about 1 year earlier and had just finished my father’s funeral when the pandemic exploded in 2019.
I still remembered all those residents of the care center where my father spent his last years, with their ailments and infirmities, and I knew that in such an environment something as mundane as an influenza outbreak immediately leads to increased mortality. I also know how the staff with unbridled commitment tries to help everyone as best as possible, residents as well as their families. Then the corona virus arose, disrupting your immune system, especially if your body has other ailments.
Fortunately, as a young Grandpa, I am healthy and robust, and I have no fear of Covid-19. Nevertheless, I now also belong to that category of people who are heading for the end. That surely makes me think. In the past I was confronted with the death of colleagues and relatives, often at a relatively young age, but like many others, I did not really fear that for myself. Of course I have a will in case I have an accident, but otherwise my life was a staged journey to unknown destinations. That picture changed in 2019: the final destination is clear, the only question is how you get there, and which stopovers you still can or want to make. Especially for that “how” in the last stage of my life, I have drawn up a Living Will with my notary.
A normal will serves to settle property matters (or have them arranged) after your death. With a “Last Wish” codicil you can settle practical things such as cremation, any accounts and subscriptions, personal messages, or the legacy of goods with emotional value only.
A living will makes personal wishes known to those around you as soon as you can no longer express them yourself because you are no longer physically or mentally independent. For me it is simple: a living will comes into effect when I can no longer be the way I like to be. Now that I still have a healthy, unbiased and uninfluenced mind, in the presence of witnesses, I arrange things about how my life should be shaped. How do I feel about medical treatment and what should my caregivers adhere to? Things like not resuscitating, no-donor codicil and support during the process of dying are part of this. While I was thinking about this, I came across all kinds of ethical and philosophical questions about myself and my fellow man and about how society’s structure limits us in our freedom of choice. Themes such as: my wishes versus the freedom of others to cooperate or not. Text is patient, but unfortunately the practice is far from easy.
Life and death
The first thing I ran into were the prevailing views on death and dying. With the exception of a war situation (#BrainTricks), society only accepts death if it is medically unavoidable, with a minor emphasis on “living with dignity”. In other words: if you’re going to die anyway, then you should proceed, and your last trajectory can be made less taxing. Speeding up the process is still out of the question, however, unless a host of specialists say your suffering is unbearable. Rather, the opposite is true: no costs or effort is spared to stretch a life a bit (#UnhealthEconomics). For an 80-year-old living 2 months longer that’s only 0.8%, and not really the most important, but surely the most expensive part of that life.
I have lived my pre-retirement life well enough. I have contributed to the development of humanity and the next generation, and I have experienced an instructive mix of beautiful and less pleasant things. In summary, when I look back on my life, I am satisfied. And let it be clear: I still enjoy my life. I still leave edifying messages behind, and I help people take a step further. I now have enough time and peace of mind to pursue my hobbies and thereby make my partner’s life a bit more comfortable. It is still exciting to think about moving to a rural area and to live self-sufficiently, although of course the (future) preconditions are different from 20 years ago. Taking care of myself and maintaining my home gives satisfaction and good vibes. But with all these things I no longer feel a sacred fire, no “must”, no urge to complete unfinished things. If for some reason my life would be over, then upfront I already am at peace with that.
The only certainty you have when you are born is that you will die again.
I well remember how I struggled with this at various stages of my life, including a prolonged repression during the last 20 years of my working life (there were also a lot of nicer things that demanded my attention). Gradually, the theme #UnhealthEconomics became increasingly clear to me, and with it my insights and beliefs also changed. For a variety of reasons, state, religion and industry benefit from people living longer. Dying earlier than is scientifically necessary does not (yet) fit into #Organismics thinking. Talking about it is seen as dangerous, because where do you draw the line, and who is ultimately responsible? When does one cross the dividing line with suicide or murder? How can more modern norms and values surrounding dying be misused for purposes other than finalising a completed life with dignity? I involuntarily think of the film “Soylent Green”, in which the elderly in an overpopulated world with food scarcity are processed into nutritious biscuits. At first glance a horrific scenario, especially if the leaders turn out to be above the law, but in itself the idea is not so very strange. In the current practice it just takes a little longer before our remains return to our food through nature. Another picture that presents itself is the tribes in inhospitable areas, where the elderly leave the community at the end of their lives to die, and are never found again. It can’t be that simple in our complex and crowded society because of all the serious ethical-social dilemmas, but those are not really my personal problem. I have the right to self-determination, decide for myself when my life is still worth living, and that is why I have accepted dying as a normal final phase in my life.
I chose to have little contact with the next generation. Nor do I want to burden those people with a moral obligation towards me. I used to think the elderly belonged to a different era, not really suitable for tackling modern and contemporary problems, and I now see that same attitude in “the young ones”. I remember how old people used to listen with a smile and ask appreciative questions without coming up with concrete advice or anything. Now I do the same, because I now know that everyone has to discover their own way and as an older person I can only point out casually forgotten aspects. I now really live for myself, my partner, and those happy few who fit into my personal circle.
That attitude of “no obligations, no responsibilities” should, in my opinion, also apply to others towards me. Of course you can’t force that. There will always be people who, out of their nature, want to help fellow human beings. However, I set my limit at very high dependence due to physical or psychological handicaps, which requires extensive care. I horrify the thought of others having to wipe my butt, or that I can no longer communicate properly with people who therefore have to guess what I might be thinking or saying. I don’t want to be wheeled around in a wheelchair with incontinence aids, surrounded by a cloud of urine smell. No one should feed me. I want to be able to shower myself, comb my hair, brush my teeth. If I can no longer play the guitar or work on my computer, if I can no longer engage in light hobby activities, or take walks on my own two feet, then I am done with my life. However well-intentioned, I get the creeps from people who want to convince me that there are so many other beautiful things to enjoy, who try to talk me into insights that mainly soothe their own conscience. Gone is over.
In summary: I don’t want to be a burden on my environment. At all times, including medical treatment, my perspective must be as the situation was shortly before. I don’t want to become a greenhouse plant, not a needy wreck, not a guinea pig of ambitious doctors. That is my honor, no matter what people say. It gives me a bad feeling, even though others see it as their life fulfillment to take care of me. That also applies to the time after my death: I don’t want a funeral service, no farewell. A quick cremation, and that’s it! I know that a funeral is mainly there for the bereaved, fitting in with their grieving process and relieving any remaining feelings of guilt. But actually it shouldn’t; when people feel that need, then it is way too late, and certainly no longer necessary.
In the future I’ll receive a good, phased pension, with which I pay off my mortgage and thus build up capital for my heirs in the following generations. Other than that, I mainly let money flow back into the economy. A significant part of this goes to the tax authorities and all kinds of insurance premiums that I hardly use. I belong to the large group of people who live carefully and consciously, and therefore mainly contribute to the needs of others. I like that too; it is my social part in society, apart from financial support in developing countries. It suits me and my view of life that I cost less than I earn myself.
It’s obvious that I do not want to become an unnecessary expense for society in a later phase of my life. Once that happens, for whatever reason, my quality of life is so reduced that my life essentially is complete. For me, no expensive treatments that only delay the inevitable, no aids that mainly emphasize how flawed I am, no care that could be better spent on others. This not only saves on healthcare costs, but also benefits the pensions of others, and makes the healthcare system more efficient. That idea gives me a good feeling, like a kind of collective legacy to a society that has already given me a lot.
Today you often hear that unvaccinated people are holding society hostage through their rejection. I’m not going to have that discussion in this context, but it’s clearly not right. Rather, it is the people who easily can get sick, or who want to take part in mass activities no matter what, that are holding the corona policy hostage. Therefore, as soon as my condition becomes a burden or indirect threat to too many people around me, then my added value is negative, and my life has reached the end of the journey. Then, as soon as I’m ready, just put me to sleep and letme go. Bad surgeons make stinking wounds, so it’s best to act quickly. The organism “humanity” only gets better from such a procedure (#Organismics).
If such an approach were to become commonplace, the industry would of course also change. Perhaps the #UnhealthEconomics becomes a bit healthier, because the industrial interest then no longer lies in extension, softening and care. Research and development programs and budgets can be geared more towards productive contribution. Unfortunately, there are still too many religious and political barriers to common sense. A long discussion about ethics and legislation will still have to be conducted to ensure that everyone is treated equally on the one hand, and that there is sufficient self-determination on the other. We need to come up with a new, collectively credible story that will go down in history as the enhanced humanism of the 21st century.
The document that I had my civil-law notary draw up meets all legal conditions and requirements. Unfortunately, it’s a weak reflection of what I really want. I may say that treatments without perspective and resuscitation are not desired. As a person in need of care in the gray area between normally healthy and near-death I can tell what I still see as meaningful. But what I really want is euthanasia as soon as I ask for it, and that’s practically impossible. As such, my living will is a concession to a society with desired legislation that has not yet arrived.