MY THOUGHTS: While I respect this woman’s right to choose how her life ended, there’s a dangerous tone in these types of conversation about dementia. I believe there can still be a quality of life and that some people (myself included) would not choose to die rather than live with dementia. It’s a different life, but I believe it can still have worth for some. Everyone’s journey with the disease is different, in ways that aren’t comparable to more straightforward physical illnesses.
I also strongly disagree with the premise at the end that if there was assisted suicide for dementia, then this woman could’ve lived longer. How would others choose where to draw that line? Dementia progresses differently for each person and the person with dementia often can’t tell you when enough is enough. I support her in making a clear choice on her own, but asking someone else to draw that line in the course of a very complicated and progressive disease is, in my opinion, completely unfair to the person who would have to make the call. I don’t think there is enough cognitive ability at later stages to call it assisted any longer. It would be something else entirely. And THAT I am not okay with, personally.
A person with dementia still has grace. People like me work to try and preserve it while maintaining as much safety and dignity as possible, and there are plenty of people who live for years with the illness while regularly experiencing happiness and sometimes even a kind of joy that isn’t possible except in the childlike place you sometimes revisit. Minimizing that factor evokes feelings in me that are similar to when I’ve heard people comment that those with severe (or even non-severe) developmental disabilities should’ve been allowed to die rather than “live like that.”
Not everyone finds that altered existence acceptable. That’s okay. But there IS grace to be found in all of the ways we exit this world, and we are still someone even in the latest stages of this illness. Those left behind may not understand or welcome the someone their loved one becomes, but there is still a life present, and one of some value even if it’s different, or ugly, or a huge departure from the person’s earlier personality. Sometimes wonderful, pleasant people become mean or angry, yes, but sometimes I hear a long-abused son or daughter tell me that dementia gave them a brief period of seeing their parent as the happy person they may have been before they grew hard and mean, and there can be relief in that in strange ways.
I’m glad for this woman, who found the right way to end things on her chosen terms, but the tone of the current conversation about dementia really worries me. There are stories of men whose wives are diagnosed and they shoot their spouse and then themselves. The conversation needs to be a careful one or we’re creating a scary climate among the elderly.