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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 9 years ago

Chris Jepson: Owning one's death

Why I'm going to take control of the end of my life.
by: Chris Jepson Staff Writer

Take one for the team. What does that mean to you? Most of us, I do imagine, would fall on a grenade to save their family. With just momentary hesitation — instantaneous assessment of alternatives — we willingly sacrifice ourselves for the perceived greater good. I genuinely do believe that that “act” is within most of humanity.

I’ve a not-so-modest proposal for your consideration. Some will immediately resist it as inhumane, or as only God can make such determinations. Realistically speaking, only so many people are capable or willing to participate. Of determining when to die and actually doing it.

I became aware of my own mortality at a young age. Perhaps it was growing up on an Iowa mink ranch where I quickly connected the dots between animal death and my own inevitable end. Agricultural farming (with its seasons) illuminates the cyclical nature of life, but slaughtering animals also illustrates the human condition. We all die. The questions are when and how.

We do not plan to be born. But is it then unreasonable — because our wishes were not a factor — that how and when we die is beyond our self-control as well? I know that answer for myself.

I do see a number of the moral considerations. But none of them trump my individual right to determine my own outcome.

I’ll paint three scenarios. Based on family history I am counting on another 20 years of healthy life. I would be sorely disappointed to not get those years. But when my end comes, I want to control when and under what circumstances I die.

Say, at age 75, I am diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and it is progressing at a rate of “X.” Do I in good conscience wait until I cannot remember my loved ones and require “help” to change my soiled clothes? Is it my intention to burden my offspring (both emotionally and financially) with a body, a shell that was once Chris Jepson? Is that being the good, responsible parent?

A more realistic scenario, at least for males in my family, is that we are “vibrant” until we abruptly are not. Strokes/heart attacks have left a number of us diminished. I again ask: if I determine, for myself, my definition of quality of life, should I be precluded from controlling my outcome?

One last possibility. Say I live to my 90s, am a go-getting, independent S.O.B. but one-day experience a serious hiccup in my giddy-up. Should I not have the option to say, “I’ve had one helluva great ride, but time’s afleeting! Hand me my phenobarbital and Jack Daniels. Two ice cubes, please.”

The initial question posed was, “Taking one for the team.” I’ll have a certain quality of life until I die. In addition, I do not want to burden those I care for. Period.

But there is also a tremendous “greater” good that Baby Boomers can execute by taking ownership of death. Modern medicine keeps people alive (terminally ill/diminished elderly) at an awful cost to human dignity, family cohesiveness and at great public expense.

Few will embrace my perspective. I understand that. Death is too frightening. We do not much discuss such matters. And, of course, the slippery slope.

But if 20 percent of boomers voluntarily acted — to own their deaths as they lived their lives — we wouldn’t be so concerned with the financial collapse of Medicare. Consider taking one for the team. Ye, of a certain mettle.

Jepson is a 24-year resident of Florida. He’s fiscally conservative, socially liberal, likes art and embraces diversity of opinion. Reach him at [email protected]

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