Life and Death


They say life is short, but, right now, it is also too long. Our bodies and minds were not designed to function well over (say) the age of 70. Yet people are increasing living many years beyond that. We have serious problems in the aged care sector, not just because of poor funding, government mismanagement and greedy providers, but simply because there are so many older people who can no longer look after themselves.Our medical system is straining under the demand for health care, and much of it is coming from the elderly. Take a look around your GP’s waiting room and draw your own conclusions. Drugs and sophisticated technology are providing the means by which we can live longer and longer. But is this a good thing? Is it good for society, is it environmentally sustainable, and it it even desirable to the majority of elderly Australians? Ask those “compounded” in nursing homes when they’d just rather be dead. How many times have you heard someone say “I hope I die before I have to go into one of those”? Growing old beyond the point of functionality, or developing late-life dementia, scares the hell out of most people. Yet we see doctors required to take the Hippocratic Oath which establishes several principles of medical ethics. But unfortunately it has engendered a fixation on the avoidance of death rather than the embarrassment of life.

Then, of course, there's the cost of funding people who outlive the age expectancy of the 1950's,. which is when our pension scheme and old-age care models were developed. Governments are now finding it almost impossible to adequately fund these services. Major reforms of such things as taxation are required to address the problem. Planning ahead, unfortuneately, doesn't seem to be within the capacity of our politicians, so the political system also requires reform. It is within the realm of pragmatism that theses issues can be addressed. But only if we all recognise that life was always meant to be fleating, and that prolonging life expectancy may seem an achievement but at what cost to society generally.

Doctors say that their primary objective is to “save lives”. So, how do you reckon they are going with that? So often we hear people bemoan the fact that something they love to do or consume must be eliminated from their daily lives. It makes sense for a younger person, but only then should it be considered advice. People are entitled to live their own lives their own way as long as it doesn’t impinge upon others. But, for example, to tell and older person that the scotch they enjoy each night before bedtime must be scrapped, makes little sense at all. Let them choose their lifestyle and if that means it may be shortened, so be it. And please let them have some dignity and also choose whether or not to take the multitude of pills that are prescribed. Drug companies absolutely cherish the fact that we are living longer and taking many more drugs. It makes them a fortune. And it’s the same with the manufacturers of medical equipment. They are not about health, they are just about money.

Legalising euthanasia is just one small part of the solution to this problem. Stop preaching at us. Inform us, yes, but do not direct. We have to take advantage of the one chance we get at this thing called life. From the time you are born until the time you die you have one overwhelming responsibility to yourself and the rest of society, and that is to be happy. Not joyful, but truly happy.

I attended a doctor’s appointment last week where discussed the results of my recent blood tests. He rang the week before and wanted to see me rather urgently. I panicked at first, but awoke with a kind of “epiphany” a few days later. I was scared that I would again be told to give up drinking, change my diet, etc. But I finally realised that I don’t have to do anything of the kind. I enjoy my life now more than I ever have before, and I won’t substantially change it. I have subsequently reduced my red wine intake, but only marginally. It was interesting that the doctor who gave me a lengthy lecture about the evils of alcohol had “tried” a small glass of wine at one stage, but hated it. He had never touched a drop since. He ignored the fact that the damage done to my liver had not progressed in the last five years. The earlier years, when my habit was more pronounced, that I suffered the cirrhosis. I figure that if it means that I die a little before I need to go into a nursing home, that suits me. And if I was to ever be given a sentence, I would just live life to the fullest, probably including taking up smoking cigars again.

So, to my children, Michael and Kate, I want you to understand and appreciate my viewpoint. If I do end up in hospital or a home where I am simply waiting to pass, please ask them to stop any medication designed simply to keep me alive. I love you both.

Relevant quotations

“I'm the one that's got to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.” - Jimi Hendrix

“To the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.” - J.K. Rowling

“Losing your life is not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing is to lose your reason for living.” - Jo Nesbo

“When it’s time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.” - Henry David Thoreau

Geoff Mooney