When to pull the plug

by Terry Oliver on February 2, 2013

Having recently finished rewriting over a dozen drafts of my black comedy about euthanasia, I am now in the process of trying to get a stage production of it next. It is currently doing the rounds of various actors and directors down here to get feedback from them as to the prospects of putting it on in San Miguel.

Meantime, I will be posting the play, called A LEAP IN THE DARK here on my website for interested parties to read and comment on – so please feel free to have your say on the subject.

With my 77th birthday looming in a couple of months, I have been pondering the problem that the characters in the play have been faced with and how they dealt with it…

As someone commented on the subject of assisted suicide: “If you have to do it yourself, you’ll have to do it while you’re still able. If you are still able, it’s probably too soon. If you are unable, it’s too late.” This is the conundrum we all face if we want to stay in charge of our own lives and want to retain the ability to choose when and how we die – when the time comes. But when exactly is that? No one knows. And that is the theme of my play.

All the public controversy with the high profile court cases is mostly surrounding the issue of  ‘the right to die.’ But the moral dilemma is, for me, at least, about when to pull the plug. And how to do it. And who will do it.

All of these three questions involve difficult choices which are easier to avoid than to face. But sooner or later everyone of us has to face making not just one but all three choices.

This is not just a dilemma facing seniors although it seems to be at first blush. Middle aged people and even young people are confronted by the possibility of either accident or debilitating disease,  placing one in the position of being turned into the helpless, hapless victim with the possibility of choice taken away from us.

Unless we have already faced the possibility and made some plans to deal with such a contingency. The difference being for seniors, of course, it’s a certainty not a contingency. So, what are the options?

Well, for starters everyone can make a Living Will. A simple step not even requiring a lawyer. Any stationery store will sell you a blank form with instructions on how to fill it in. There’s just one catch. It doesn’t need a lawyer because it’s not a legal document.

So why bother? Because increasingly, doctors and hospitals are willing to recognise that a Living Will, if signed and witnessed, is proof of your desires as to how you wish to be treated, if you’re no longer in a condition to tell them. Not only are they willing, they are glad not to have to make difficult ethical decisions for you.

However, there is another catch. Lots of people nowadays have heard about Living Wills and lots more of them have even made one. The problem is what they do with them. I mean, it’s a Will, right? And what do we do with a Will? We put it in a safe place, like a safe deposit box, say, along with our regular Will. Wrong. No one else sees our Will until after we’re dead. Then our loved ones or our lawyer says – Oh hey, he left a Living Will!

So where should we keep it? Actually, we should make multiple copies and give them to close friends and family and your doctor and lawyer.  Paramedics are told to look on the fridge door or kitchen noticeboard when they are called to your house to take you to hospital. So that’s another good place to put it.

This is all well and good for people who don’t want to end their lives on life-support systems because no one will make the decision to pull the plug on them. But it’s no guarantee that your wishes  will be carried out until so-called physician-assisted suicide is made law. And so far, the number of places in the world where this is legal can be counted on one hand. Switzerland is most well-known, also Belgium, Holland and Washington and Oregon in the USA.

And in none of them is it straightforward. They are very restrictive about who and when and why – with plenty of conditions and hurdles to jump through before they agree. Because everyone is frightened they’ll be either sued or jailed for one reason or another.

Back to square one. You begin to see how fraught with difficulties is this whole question of  ‘The Right to Die.’

In my play, A LEAP IN THE DARK, these themes and questions are explored in the only way I felt was possible – by black comedy or farce. If we can laugh at our prejudices and blind spots, then just maybe we can start having a real discussion about a situation which ultimately faces us all.

I know you have an opinion on this subject – why not share it here and start the discussion going?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Guy Marsden April 10, 2015 at 8:09 pm

A Leap In The Dark could perhaps be called Rogers End Game as he seems to have unwittingly or not managed to end up very much alive while remaining relatively sane albeit dangerously so. Roger with Hetties help comes through in the end as happy he started out.
I was reminded in the early stages in this play of ” One Flew Over The
Cuckoos Nest”, with Matron as nurse Cratchet & Roger starting out Jack the wacko but then with a twist in the end looking more like the Chief.
A Leap In The Dark is definitely a black comedy a sort of ” Waiting On Godot” but with a very disturbing reality .
We can all hope to keep it together as we age , but in the event all to often our final exit is out of our control.
T.Oliver has produced a great play a tragi/comedy with emphasis on the tragedy but with a healthy injection of gallows humour.

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