Wednesday 27 May 2015

A time of her choosing

Now here's an interesting story from the NYT Mag about finding a time to die after a fulfilling life, even if attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion were no part of it. Sandy Bem was a writer, a 1970s radical, an academic and a psychologist with a particular interest in gender studies. Just when she was coming up for retirement from Cornell U, she was watching a TV documentary about Alzheimer's and realised, all in a tumble, that she was on that path herself. She braced herself for that and resolved that she wouldn't wait until aluminium plaques destroyed her last vestige of self: she would finish the job herself at a time of her choosing. She would thus be a step more autonomous than, say, murderer Clayton Lockett who was also under a sentence of death for much of the same period.

The problem was: when?  It's like there is always a better time in the future to try for a baby . . . until you run out of time at menopause.  In Professor Bem's case, there was a grandchild to see, and projects to finish and, in order to help that happening, she paid some $000s for medications of doubtful efficacy to maybe slow down the cognitive decline. When she did finally chug down 100ml of liquid pentobarbital, comfy in her own bed in her own home with a trusted friend to hold her hand, she basically didn't know what day of the week it was and certainly wasn't in a position to sign an informed consent form.  But she had printed out all the relevant e-mails and signed enough paper-work while she still had her marbles.

Clayton Lockett was tazered then left alone for 8 hours before being strapped down on gurney by 5 prison guards and used a pincushion by a stressed out paramedic and a totally unprepared doctor to administer an absurdly complex exit protocol that smells of scienciness and not at all of 'humane'.  A long time ago, the authorities in Athens decided that they'd had enough of Socrates and his thinking about everything and handed him a glass of hemlock juice to drink. Would anyone think to offer the likes of Clayton Lockett 200ml of pentobarbital instead of the ghoulish convention of a last meal of choice?  It might be more convenient and dignified, and cheaper for everyone.

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