This week marked an interesting turning point in the history of our culture’s relationship to death and dying. For nearly 39 million people, options at the end of life have expanded to include legally, without the stigma of “suicide” being attached, taking a prescription to end one’s own life.
California’s End of Life Option Act become law yesterday, making it the fifth state to allow terminally ill individuals to lawfully chose to end their own lives.
Meanwhile, Canada joins Switzerland, Germany, Albania, Columbia and Japan in allowing assisted suicide within specific guidelines.
What does that mean for senior care providers?
It means that we’d better step up to the front to talk about death and dying; to explore how we feel about the end of life and what we believe. We’d better talk to – and listen to – our clients and families to better understand what they believe. We should listen to opinions that differ from ours and try to understand how someone at that phase of life, where death is no longer a remote inevitability but a daily, close at hand reality, considers their choices.
Perhaps we’ll start to see the process of dying differently than before. Perhaps not – but either way, we stand in a position to lead the way for the conversation on how to live with, and die with, new approaches to this “final stage of growth,” as Dr. Kubler-Ross so elegantly referred to it in her landmark work that introduced many of us to a discussion of death and dying.
We have the opportunity to lead the way to discussions on how to implement new laws in ways that protect everyone’s choice, no matter what that is. It is, inevitably, a topic much nearer to the experience of our clients than of the rest of the population. Are we ready to lead the way? Are we ready to help our clients through this process and the heart-wrenching decisions that are now legally available to them?
It’s a big challenge for the senior care industry. We’d better be ready to lead the way with answers and solutions.