Hands Across the Seas

Musafir's Musings

Hands Across the Seas, Part I
A Friend's Decision to Die with Dignity

"The winds that blow-- ask them,
which leaf of the tree
will be next to go"

---Soseki (translated by Harold Henderson)

A friend, Sarah M, who lives in Sussex, UK, was recently diagnosed with cancer of the bladder. It is a horrible, painful, degrading disease. She has decided to avoid going through the various stages of treatment which could prolong her remaining days.

Sarah is a passionate activist in human rights causes and justice for the Palestinians. Widely traveled, she is a voracious reader, enjoys gardening, pets, and music. While the NHS in Britain does not have provision for pro-active measures to hasten death, one gets the impression that it is less rigid in its position than the American system under pressure of religious and political organizations to which 'euthanasia' is a dirty word.

As we grow old the circle of friends and acquaintances shrink. Inevitable. We are here for a limited time and sooner or later our time comes. In the last eight years I have lost two childhood friends to cancer. In both cases their suffering was not prolonged. I don't know what they would have done if faced with the decision to go through a long, expensive, and ultimately meaningless series of treatments.

I have strong feeling about 'right to die' and 'death with dignity'. Simply put, I do not believe in an after-life. I accept the "blank certitude of death". If I should happen to be afflicted with terminal illness my decision would be to let the end come without going through lengthy medical procedures, certainly without being kept alive on life support. My children and friends are aware of my position. I have filed the necessary document with my health care provider and hope that there would not be any hitches but one cannot be sure. Some people not only want to cling to life regardless of the state they are in but they also do not wish to allow those who feel differently to opt for final exit.

Only two states -- Oregon and Washington --in our country have enacted laws to permit physician assistance in dying. For the rest of us it is a different situation. Personally, I thought that Dr. Kevorkian did great work until he was imprisoned for assisting terminally ill people to die. We don't have anything like Dignitas, the Swiss organization. So, one has to plan in advance for the eventuality to avoid being a victim of the system, hooked up to life support.

Neither Sarah nor I believe in prayers. I think of her and hope that palliative medicine would help her to cope as she prepares for her final days in a hospice.

Listening to Glenn Gould, Piano, A State of Wonder, The Complete Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) 1955. Sony Classical Legacy S3K 87703.


Hands Across the Seas, Part II
A Garden in Sussex, UK

Consultations with doctors; visits from friends and family members; taking care of the various mundane yet important tasks that must be dealt with, Sara M. continues to be active and energetic in pursuing her projects.

Her messages convey no sign of despair. Sarah recently completed and published her research about surveillance societies. A lot of work went into it. For Sarah, it is a labor of love. The post reflects her passionate position about injustice and the widening use of technological advances in weapons of war that only the major nations can afford and use them to achieve ends which rarely have anything to do with democracy and freedom for the people of the countries under attack.

A friend wrote to her that "prayers work". There is no argument about the fact that some people find solace, strength in prayers.

Our ex-president G.W. Bush spoke on October 26th at a Get Motivated seminar (ticket price $225.00) in Fort Worth,TX, about being helped by god in his decisions. And former prime minister of Britain, Tony Blair, talked about "divine impulses" during a video interview published by The Washington Post. Two men with blood on their hands. Sickening. No doubt the grand inquisitors felt empowered by god to burn the heretics. And the Crusaders went on their looting and pillaging expeditions blessed by god. In Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, the Islamic fundamentalists are killing each other as if there is no tomorrow. They,too, believe in prayers and they blow up innocent people in the name of their god.

It was what Sarah wrote about her garden that made me feel good:

"Stefan is clearing the garden now, which is sort of a mirror ...
I love the garden with the bare earth and compost. The red roses
are still blooming, along with the winter jasmine."

A corner of Sarah's garden - June 2009


Hands Across the Seas, Part III

Despite advancing march of the disease, Sarah continues to remain active in pursuing her projects and making arrangements to move to a hospice from her beloved cottage and the garden in which she takes so much pleasure. In terms of physical distance the hospice is not far. If feasible, Sarah would rather spend her remaining days in the cottage, among familiar scenes, objects, and with her two dogs.

Sarah took this photograph a few days ago.

Sarah's Garden © Sarah Meyers

"The falling leaves
fall and pile up: the rain
beats on the rain."

--Gyodai, translated by Harold Henderson

In a message, Sarah wrote on November 9th:

● Stefan has been and cleared ALL the leaves, AND composed the front garden. The earth becomes barer and barer, like me? Lucky to have him. At first, no dialogue. Now he tells lots of stories. Like that. So now, I, too, am spending a lot of time looking out the window, loving either the rain or the blue skies. The owl hoots every night. Love that, too.

Even among her friends, not everyone agrees with her decision. There are those who, for religious or other reasons, make use of all available resources that medical science offers to live longer even when hooked up to tubes. It is not about of being right or wrong. It is a very personal issue -- what being 'alive' means to some people.

But, after all is said, we cannot really feel the depth of emotional pain and suffering of her children.

Hemlock Society, America's oldest right-to-die organization, founded in 1980 in Santa Monica, CA, by Derek Humphrey, has splintered into different groups. Prominent among them is Compassion and Choices. Politics played a role in the demise of the Hemlock Society. A pity. The name was right, and so was its motto: "Good Life, Good Death".

Sarah's account of her illness contains a wealth of data about cancer and mentions an article in The Guardian about "......the ethical fudge which permits the refusal of treatment and terminal sedation, but not assisted dying". And an item from Dignity in Dying.org uk.

● 8 October 2009: New research shows a third of deaths are hastened by doctors

● Clive Seale's research into end of life practice, published this week in Social Science and Medicine, has found that over a third of doctors say they have given drugs to terminally ill patients, or withdrawn treatment, knowing that it would or intending to shorten their life."

This argument is not likely to come to a conclusion anytime soon. But that there are compassionate physicians who quietly play a role in assisting terminally ill patients is no secret.


Death with Dignity Hospice Hemlock Society


Source: http://pacetua.blogspot.com/2009/10/hands-across-seas-part-i.html and http://pacetua.blogspot.com/2009/11/hands-across-seas-part-ii.html

Photo: http://www.ksphotography.com.au/web%20site%20pictures%2003.06/2%20autumn%20leaves.jpg

Sarah's Website: http://indexresearch.blogspot.com/


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