I’ve felt, for years, this is the next battle between reason and religion here in the U.S. and in fact it has expanded from the pioneering movement in Oregon now to five states and I predict it will be the majority of states (certainly the blue states) in another decade or so.
It’s simple. This is the only way out of the demographic mess we’re facing and baby boomers, but especially their children who don’t want to pay for them, will look at this issue pragmatically and move forward on it.
This is particularly relevant to me personally, at the moment, as I just faced the issue that my 100YO mother was forced to leave her home to managed care. My parents were both professionals and made reasonable income but as children of the Depression they were very frugal and so accumulated a reasonable chunk of assets. So the outrageous cost of managed care is something that can be managed with my mother’s assets, at least for about five years (imagine spending 100 years of savings in just five years, before this, due to pensions and some mineral rights my mother was still saving until just a year ago).
It’s very depressing for me to handle all this as my mother is mostly blind, mostly deaf, incontinent, now immobile, and somewhat in pain. Yet she is otherwise healthy and cognitively sound (so she knows what is happening to her and is very depressed about it). She constantly talks about how she wishes she could just die, a common refrain of the very elderly (now that I am “elderly” I make the distinction of old and very old). But she doesn’t want to die and would never do anything to bring it about. In fact part of why she is still alive is that she shuts herself in and studiously avoid the chance of picking up a disease; someone who actually wanted to die might hang around people, esp. lots of children, hoping to get their final illness. So saying you want to die and actually doing something about it are very different things.
So this will be a new political battle that pits the religinuts against everyone else (let those who fight against suicide pay the $10k/month it costs as the alternative). Reversing abortion (where they’ll win) and fighting gay rights (where they’ll lose, although they’re now thinking of other tricks to stop that Constitutional Right as well, even out and out disobedience) has occupied their political effort, but assisted suicide is just sitting there in the near future. I believe both a large fraction of the baby boomers (faced with the prospect of a long life expectancy, but a much diminished quality of life) and their children will look at this issue differently than the previous generations (where, frankly, it wasn’t much of an issue due to more primitive medical care).
Here in a Nebraska, one of the reddest of red states, some clever political maneuvering allowed the votes to eliminate the death penalty, even enough to override the veto of the tea bagger governor. Why? The proponents to eliminate did it for moral reasons, but they got the rest of the votes on the expediency of not wanting to pay for it. It’s more expensive to execute someone than it is to keep them locked up so the state will save tax money by no executions. The rightwingnuts here didn’t change their views of loving executing people (just like Texas) but they didn’t want to pay for it. In essence the moral opponents of death penalty have done the same thing as anti-choice crowd, not outlaw it (until now), but make it unpractical, as red states are doing with every sleazy trick to eliminate the Constitutional Right of choice.
So as baby boomers get older (and more decrepit) and sick (with no chance of full recovery) and more aches and pains and limited mobility and wasting diseases I think baby boomers (most of them) will decide, at some point, quality of life is more important than quantity. After all it’s my life and if I want to end up who has the right to stop me (except some antiquated religious ideas designed to keep people living in misery instead of ending it). With the rise in “nones” (as religious designation) the moral momentum will shift to right-to-die rather than obeying ancient dogma.
But it will be the kids who put this over the top. The simple fact is that end of life is very expensive. Medicare and Social Security are a lottery (i.e. insurance). Some don’t get back what they paid in, some get back more than they paid. With better health, that balance will be upset, not enough people dying to use their unused funds to fund the living. I’ve always made the comparison to car insurance. I’ve paid my premiums for over 30 years now with no claims, obviously I’ve lost my money (but had peace of mind). But would I rather have an accident with injuries, even deaths, just to get my money back? No thank you. I’ll pay my premiums and still hope to never make a claim.
So this is how the system works. Everyone pays, some don’t get anything (or much) back (the people who die young) and others get more than they paid. Fine, only one ticket wins the lottery and gets a lot and zillions of people lose a little. But the numbers have to balance for this to work. If too many baby boomers survive into the years where their expenses start rising and too few young people have the economic opportunities we baby boomers had (a booming and more equitable economy, without the race-to-the-bottom lowering of incomes for most kids (a kid is anyone just a bit younger than me, i.e. most of the population)). It doesn’t matter about the politics (which the Repugs brutally want to renege on promises, even repaying the money they took out of the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for tax cuts for the rich). The numbers just won’t work. The young people can’t afford to pay for the increasing number of old people.
So simple answer. Old people need to die. And we’ll accomplish that two ways: 1) we’ll reduce medical benefits (as the Repugs are already trying to kill Medicare, as the CEOs already have done with pensions (promises made and broken), as bankrupt Michigan is doing to its people) so people will die from things that can be fixed, if they could be paid for (and btw docs and hospital, all the inflation you’re getting away with is going to bounce back and hit your pocketbook when the public funding, that you advocate eliminating so you pay less taxes, actually does get eliminated – have fun, you’ll deserve having no paying patients), and, 2) people will choose not to live poor lives and decide to end it. Come on, we all are going to die. What does it matter whether you take you last breath at 101 or 91 or 81. Sure if your life is still good AND you can afford life, go for it. But many baby boomers will pay for their earlier life (bad health habits, busted joints from stupid exercise) will illness and pain as they age. And no matter how much money they made (and mostly spend on luxuries while young as saving is not the virtue it was for the previous generation) you won’t have enough. I don’t have enough for what is: a) my likely life expectancy, and, b) what costs are going to be in the future, even though I inherited frugality from my parents, plus avoiding the Ponzi schemes of Wall Street and so didn’t lose my savings.
So what happens to the majority of boomers? Starting about now, getting to be big issue in another 10 years and a crisis in 20 years. My father-in-law was in a bottom of the market nursing home (still more expensive than the ripoff Long-Term Care insurance policies) and it was awful. My mother is more fortunate but despite good and compassionate care her life sucks (she’s safe, fed, clean, etc., but has no joy in her life). So in another 10 or 20 years when it’s my term it’s going to be way worse (and all the managed care places springing out from quick buck artists who think this is a growing market segment go broke because no one can afford it).
So when significantly reduces in quality of life plus in potentially desperate conditions (worse than any other time in our (baby boomers) otherwise pampered lives, I mean 3rd world kind of conditions) plus all the other things that are going to break (climate change, water and soil depletion, increasing instability and terrorism – what a wonderful future we’ve made for ourselves by deferring hard decisions) life is going to suck for a lot of people. And those people (and their kids, even if they conceal it) will want to die.
I’ve had enough bad things happen I’ve thought about suicide, in fact fairly often. Nominally that means I’m clinically depressed, but I reject that idea. I believe there can be times where suicide is the best (albeit last) options. This is rational not mentally ill. No SSRI pill is going to fix a sucky life. Depression is like pain, it’s telling you something. Pain tells you to stop hurting yourself physically, but sometimes pain is the inevitable product of unsolvable conditions. Depression is telling you to fix your life but sometimes it’s not possible to fix your problems. Optimism is wonderful, but often unrealistic. As I tell my mother when she says she wants to die, “you’re not going to die, at least now, and you’ll just have to adapt”. What if she doesn’t want to adapt. And that’s scary to me. Not only is she unable to consider suicide (for old ideas) she is now unable to do even if she wanted to (trying to starve yourself is pretty tough and that’s about all you can do when you’re fully disabled). So for the rest of us, younger, an assisted and “safe” suicide is the merciful choice.
We see in movies, plus know it’s actually true, that many soldiers kill themselves (rather than face capture and torture), that other people do. Suicide is rising. Now when it’s young kids who just can’t stand the agony of growing up, we should help them. When it’s an old fart, with no chance of reversing their decline and nothing to look forward to, we should help them too, but to end their life. One reason I’ve never made it all the way to actually doing suicide is a fear I’d botch it – the bullet or pills or jump off a cliff don’t actually kill me, but make it worse, surviving, but damaged. We need that safe, certain and humane option.
No one is going to force old people to die. We should vigorously stop that. It must be a rational choice. But we also can’t say wanting to die is clinical depression and therefore not informed consent. So like other aspects of life we now sound policies, argued wisely, without stupid biases or someone else’s religious points of view, candid and thoughtful discussion. We need safeguards against possible abuse, we need dignity and an end to suffering for those who choose that (all these botched executions scare me a bit whether medical suicide would always work, at least painlessly, so maybe we need some R&D for better techniques).
But the whole point is we need a rational policy that is focused on the rights of those who face this issue – to live and not be forced/coerced to do it, to die by their choice. It is not some ancient and obsolete document that should determine my fate. And if the religinut opponents start raising their bogus “freedom of religion” crap, like they’re doing with gay marriage (it’s really their freedom to tell others how to live their lives, that’s not “freedom”, that’s coercion and dictatorship).
So will lawmakers handle this issue wisely. Don’t count on it. In a few enlightened states maybe yes. And based on Nebraska’s example about death penalty maybe even a few red states will do this right too. But we’re going to hear the same old voices we hear on other attempts to impose their religion on others.
So I say to them – put your money where your mouth is. Take compassionate care of me, pay my bills to allow me to live at the standard of living I’ve always had, provide companionship and love and caring. Don’t just force your evil ideas on me. Let me do what I want or you take care of me. And I know you’ll never take care of me, just like you don’t take care of those children you insist on being born and then cut any aid programs to help them. Your hypocrisy screams!
But I think assisted suicide will win. And soon!