By Cindy Merrill
Many years ago, during a trip to San Antonio to visit with my elderly ailing parents, my father took me aside and said to me, “Cindy, please get me a gun; I can’t go on like this.” I recoiled with a gasp. Hearing my reaction, he quickly said he didn’t mean it. However, we both knew that he did. Eighty-seven years old, blind, enfeebled and exhausted from lung problems and advanced Parkinson’s disease, no longer capable of walking but a few steps and never without a walker, my father yearned for death.
In his earlier life he had been a respected builder, a decorated Lieutenant Colonel in the Army during WWII, an active member of his church and community, loving husband and beloved father of two. He had had a very active, volunteer-filled retirement. He now was incapable of reading, volunteering, gardening, traveling, driving a car, watching TV, walking for any great length or caring for himself. With most of his family and friends long dead, my father endured this diminished life hour after hour, day after day, and year after year. He was now broken from this endless cycle of misery and suffering.
I was a daddy’s girl completely incapable of imagining him gone and totally helpless to improve the quality of his life. His situation eventually lead me to think seriously about our responsibility to those in the throes of intractable pain and suffering, terminal illness or end stage half-lives. A collection of essays entitled Must We Suffer Our Way to Death? addresses this issue from cultural, theological, and ethical perspectives. I believe that, in this day and age, the answer to that question should be a resounding no.