This week’s podcast of Hidden Brain really hit home for me. The episode raises intriguing questions about end-of-life decision. Shankar Vedantam's narrative takes us through the question "The choice was always, do you want to see tomorrow?"
The episode takes us through the journey of a family grappled with the same question. Over the decades, they talk deeply about the choices they would want to make in the face of an incurable illness or terrible injury. But when the time came to act on their beliefs, they discovered a question they hadn't considered. What if the seemingly rational choices you prefer when you're healthy no longer make sense to you when you're actually confronting death?
The questions around life, living and the reluctance to embrace the inevitable death even when it is staring you in the face are topics that I have been reflecting on since my father was paralyzed and eventually spent the last 8 months of life needing 24 X 7 care and support just to see another day; a day that may not be better than the one gone by.
I also began to appreciate how rational people react when facing the inevitable end. My dad was a proud and active veteran who had spent his early retirement years traveling around with my mother. He continued to be upbeat, even when facing the of debilitating effects of Parkinson’s.
What will happen to me after I die?
Would we be better prepared to embrace death when it inevitably comes calling, if we can answer this question? It is a question that humans and philosophers across civilizations and generations have pondered. Religion, spirituality or even the study of history and anthropology doesn’t give a clue into death and what lies at the other end. And if there is something in that ‘black hole.’
Humans don’t have the answer since the dead cant tell us what’s on the ‘other side’. And while the living can be certain that death isn’t reversible, we don’t have an assurance that the unknown we pass onto is going to be any better. Hence we take comfort in the status quo, and the certainty of life as we continue to live.
Of course, not all of us are destined to face this question. For many, death may be sudden, abrupt or untimely; leaving only the survivors to come to terms with death.
I have often wondered about the reason why people like my dad, and the protagonist of this podcast, Ms Stephanie Rinka want to struggle to live.
It is the will to struggle through the ailments and live to see another day, or is it the fear of the unknown finality of death that keeps them hanging by a thread?