A whole day nearer

I have used this link in my blog before (Les Vieux. (July 6, 2012).  The very old lady I referred to in that post, my mother’s last survivng friend, has since died.  She decided she was too tired to go on and just stopped eating.  It took a long time.

Aubade by Philip Larkin reminds us that no one escapes.  We can put off thinking about death for only so long.  I know that I am not afraid to die, but I am afraid of the lingering life-in-death that may precede it. Like Dr. Low (Saying Goodbye, Sept 24 2013) I want to be the one to decide…

The right to assisted suicide for the terminally ill has once again become a public issue.  Whether it will become a political issue in our next election remains to be seen.


By Philip Larkin

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
Philip Larkin, “Aubade” from Collected Poems. Used by permission of The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Philip Larkin.

The Spectator’s view: Canadians need a debate on assisted suicide

MATTHEWS    Frank Gunn,The Canadian Press file photo

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Health Minister Deb Matthews say Low’s powerful video has opened a discussion that Canadians want to have.

It should come as no surprise that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government are not interested in discussing assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide is a hot-button issue and one that, much like abortion, can be deeply divisive. It is fraught with emotional, religious, legal and ethical perspectives that can be difficult to reconcile. The federal government has refused to consider even small changes in law that would provide some options for people suffering terminal illness and/or some legal protection to medical professionals. Harper and his government have consistently declined to be drawn into any assisted-suicide debates. But now they may have no choice.

The polarizing issue surged into the public eye recently following the death of Dr. Donald Low. Low, who died Sept. 18 of a brain tumour, was an infectious disease specialist who became a familiar, trusted face during the 2003 SARS crisis in Toronto. With the late Dr. Sheela Basrur, Ontario medical officer of health at the time, Low worked to instil a sense of calm during an extended period of anxiety.

Eight days before his death, Low recorded a video in which he advocates for the legalization of assisted suicide to allow people to die with dignity. In the video, Low describes the impact of his illness and expresses his frustration: “I’m just frustrated with not being able to have control of my own life, not being able to make the decision myself when enough is enough.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Health Minister Deb Matthews say Low’s powerful video has opened a discussion that Canadians want to have. The government of Quebec has introduced right-to-die legislation. Recent polling suggests increased public support for some softening of the federal stance against the legalization of assisted suicide. But federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay is adamant that the government has “no desire to reintroduce legislation that would open this issue up.”

The federal government risks being left behind as Canadians continue this discussion. It is clearly one of those issues on which the public is way ahead of government. And with increasing numbers of baby boomers reaching old age, more and more of us will be facing end-of-life issues such as assisted suicide.

Legalizing assisted suicide is not risk-free. Certainly there are legitimate concerns about abuse and, perhaps, the potential for commercialization. But calm and open discussion is the only way to deal with such concerns. And it is imperative that the federal government be an active participant in that discussion.

It may be that after intense study and consultation, we find the risks are simply too great to justify substantive changes to the law. But we won’t know that unless we do the hard work. For that, we need calm and open discussion with our federal government.

Lee Prokaska

And my online comment:
SEPTEMBER 30, 2013 04:41 PM
Well, well. Here is yet another good reason NOT to vote for Harper and his cronies. Another story in the Spectator to-day speaks of an enormous demographic shift that will see “by the year 2050, seniors over the age of 60 will outnumber children under the age of 15 for the first time in history.” Let’s keep everyone alive as long as possible, in agonizing misery. No, thank you!
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2 Responses to A whole day nearer

  1. Curmudgeon Bludgeon says:

    Well, now I know: if I ever need to get in the mood to commit suicide, I just have to read some Philip Larkin, lol. That or listen to some Jacques Brel. Damn, what is it with these depressive Frenchies? (“Brel is others”!) Ah non non, pas ça. J’en ai marre!

    Much better, I feel like living again. (Aussi!)

    But seriously Motley D, the issue is real and pressing (and depressing) and the fact that Harper is being such a shit about it merely to pander to his “base” just makes it the more distressing. Agreed. Obviously there is potential for abuse in assisted suicide, and obviously that’s something that needs to be addressed, but that can only happen when the grownups in the room can talk about it freely, right? Harper will not be PM forever, of course, and I do think the trend to legalization is ultimately unstoppable, but that doesn’t make things any easier for people facing the dilemma right now.

    One thing that needs doing in the meantime anyway is some reframing. “Assisted suicide” doesn’t just sound “wrong,” it actively gets it wrong: the point is not to kill oneself, ending a life still full of potential, but simply to help an inevitable and irreversible life-end process, already underway, happen with as little pain and as much dignity and meaning as possible. How hard is that to understand? But “suicide” gets in the way, and “assisted” just makes the rest of us accomplices. So we need better ways of talking about this. Conscious farewell. Freedom-to-leap. Self-liberation. Choosing-your-way. I’m sure there are lots of others, whether potential or already in use; we simply need to keep spreading them until the idea takes hold.

    “No, I don’t want to commit suicide. I want to embrace the end of my life with consciousness dignity.”

    Whatever works.

  2. Curmudgeon Bludgeon says:

    Oops. Make that “consciousness and dignity.”

    Like I said, whatever works.

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