I recently dug up this old post from my travel blog, written in May, 2016 — about a year after the Carter decision, before the Feds passed Bill C-14. Someone else was driving and the road was not actually slippery. I was sitting in the back seat, alone with my laptop, my cats and my thoughts. So … for your reading pleasure.
The Nebraska landscape is flat. Very flat. And it gets my mind going in a direction …
The image above is of another flat thing — the line that shows on the heart monitor after the last beat. That flat line used to be the baddest news of all — a loved one had died, had shuffled off his or her mortal coil, gone home to be with Jesus, left an aching hole in a loving heart or hearts, passed away, passed on to the other side — there were many ways of talking about the event, but it was not good news no matter what. It was sometimes mixed with relief that the departed one would not suffer any longer. It was sometimes pure shock and tragedy, as in a car crash or sudden unexpected violence. Most tragic of all was when the death was a suicide that left people wondering what more could have been done. Or angry because everything had been done — but clearly not enough.
Those left behind felt sad, abandoned, bereaved. They were, and were said to be, in mourning. They wept, they wailed, they emoted, sometimes wildly, noisily, shamelessly. They grieved, sometimes for months, or even years, until life started to feel like it would go on — changed forever, but manageable, and eventually even beautiful again.
This basic scenario of life and death has changed. And the change has to do with how we view that flat green line.
Now it’s a prize that we can “qualify” for.
It’s a gift that a doctor can bestow upon us at our request.
It’s an event that can be scheduled at a time when the kids can get away from their work obligations; one that won’t tie them up or inconvenience them at all.
It’s become more like checking out of a motel, for example, or perhaps like retirement — cleaning out your desk, saying so long to the water-cooler crowd, taking that last elevator ride. All emotions are settled up in advance: “If it’s what you want, mum — don’t worry about me, off you go!” After a laborious trip to Switzerland with a decrepit lady, after the administration of the “treatment”, the family goes out to celebrate with a nice Swiss lunch. The trip home will be easier, as mum will follow later in a box. In another case, “Till death us do part” becomes less of an expression of life-long bondedness and more like a cheery wave at the train station. It’s cooler, somehow. Emotionally cooler.
A young magazine editor declares a desire for such a death. Cool. Neat and tidy. No mess or clean-up required. No terminal illness required. No real reason required, just a wish for such a nice clean death. And he publishes it in his magazine and gets lots of nice attention for it. He might actually go for it someday, or maybe not but takes comfort in knowing he could if he wanted to. Another human being — a doctor, of course, or no, maybe a nurse, or maybe a pharmacist or a lawyer — could be anyone, really — will pass the poison cup, or insert the nice clean needle and it will all be over in a matter of minutes. Very cool!
Elderly ladies start thinking about authorizing euthanasia for their old husbands whose minds have wandered off somewhere, to a new world where they are no longer wanted or needed, or so they feel. Parents of disabled kids start thinking about authorizing euthanasia to “save” their kid from a life not worth living. Will the law allow it? Sure, why not.
(Clarification: this is not the law currently in Canada, but rather the fantasy law of the DWD folks, with snippets of thought from philosophers Peter Singer, Arthur Schafer, Eike-Henner Kluge and others).
And now I’ll expect another angry message from [a disgruntled reader] accusing me of “rapping on” about the non-existent slippery slope. I stand convicted.
But I figured something out about the slippery slope, so thought I’d share it with my interested readers. And here it is: there are no slippery slopes in Nebraska — it’s flat as a pancake. If everything is flat and “equal” to begin with, there’s no sliding downhill into something wider than intended. It just starts low and wide and stays low and wide. Everyone is included, for the very first time in any social policy framework: Kids, discouraged adolescents, mad people of every race and skin colour, Alzheimers patients, disabled folks of all kinds. Equality for all — but not for life, just for death!
Living, on the other hand, creates all kinds of inequalities, all manner of hierarchies of power, dis/advantage, all kinds of pressures and costs and economic disparities; all kinds of ups and downs, stumbles and mis-steps, slips and slides and encounters with tree trunks and other hard objects; messes that need to be cleaned up; embarrassing lapses in etiquette, propriety, presentability, acceptability; losses and shocks and hurts and challenges. Life’s like that! Because we don’t just live in bodies, we are bodies — and our minds are part and parcel with our bodies. And it’s all slippery and sloppy and occasionally so smelly it makes our eyes water; and it’s tender and sensitive and painful by times. And temporary! Just when we think we’re starting to get it right — we seem to have attained a peak from which the view is breathtakingly spectacular and then some damned thing happens and we find ourselves on the slippery slope again.
And suddenly we really know we’re alive!
And the trick is to keep appreciating that alive-ness; the trick is to keep breathing! The trick is to learn to help out the one who’s down when we’re up, because sure as shootin’ things will shift again!
So here’s my observation: flat land and flat lines are deathly boring. Slippery slopes are exciting and interesting – more like the little section of green graph before the heart stops beating. Suicide choosers are flat and boring compared to those who cling to precarious lives on the slippery slopes of life. And we’re screaming out to you:
Do not go gentle into that goodnight.
Rage! Rage against the dying of the light!
(Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas)