Assisted living? What about assisted dying?
I grew up at a time when the TV airwaves seemed filled with doctor shows, and everybody watched Marcus Welby, Dr. Kildare and a variety of attractive, sensitive types who became, if not some of the icons of the 1960's, at least the Ideal Sons-in-Law for a large portion of middle class moms. Later, these rather wooden figures, who lived in nicely furnished homes inhabited by nicely furnished wives, became more animated when "M.A.S.H." arrived on the scene. The doctors (still all men) were now a bit risque', their affluence was a bit less pronounced (thanks to a war) and their women became a bit sexier ("Hotlips" had replaced "Betty").
Somewhere in the weekly script of all these shows, there often came a line that went something like this: "I'm not letting Death win this round !" or "I'm in medicine because I have to fight against Death, dammit, so let's (a) try harder to revive this patient or (b) do something not covered in the medical books." These lines had almost endless permutations, but they all said that doctors and nurses fought bravely against Bad Guy Death for the sake of us poor creatures, The Living. (The reality that they were actually fighting for Big Buck Fees from Giant Insurance Companies didn't enter the public consciousness for another generation.)
Anyway, the generation of Americans that fought the noble Fight-Against-Death is now coming to the End-Of-The-Road, and if they (or their spouse) have planned well and remained with a steady job for 30 or more years, they may get to spend their final years in the apparently comfortable surroundings of an Assisted Living facility. Here they will have a private room with their own TV, some group activities, plenty of food, and a staff that tries to keep them clean and relatively content. It appears to be a very comfortable answer to the problem of where we, the middle class people, should store our elders as they await the steady advance of the Grim Reaper.
Personally, I hate this.
When my wife and I recently made a delivery to an Assisted Living Home, we both became a bit depressed, but it took us a while to figure out why. The place certainly appeared attractive and clean enough. The staffers we met seemed kind and efficient. Assisted Living appeared to be making the best of a bad situation, but that's what bothered both of us. Why is aging such a "bad situation" in our society? Why did the inevitable seem so terrible?
Looking at this collection of elders in their nice home, we both had a feeling that we were looking at Used Up Humans, packaged nicely to await The End, although that thought wasn't too bothersome. The problem, upon reflection, is that none of these elderly had anything unselfish to do. Their home was dedicated solely to their comfort and diversion. But this goal is not only un-achievable, it also violates a basic tenet of the Judeo-Christian religion these elderly folks nominally accept.
Both Judaism and Christianity teach a doctrine of service to others as a means to a happy and fulfilling life. Certainly Jesus taught that we should even surrender our total wealth to others in order to earn a title as a disciple, or follower. However, the impression we received at the Assisted Living facility was a group of people with one overwhelming thought between them: "Gimme!"
Without saying a word they all had a request: "Give us a TV! Give us a good meal! Give us an activity! Give us a pill!" Nobody in this house of care (with the possible exception of the staff) was concerned with anything except themselves. As C.S. Lewis might have said it, they had sunk entirely into the "Great I" and in that place lies total misery. In that place is Hell.
So I think my prayer is: "Lord, please keep me from a place for Assisted Living, unless I can be of help there. When my life is no longer of use to anyone, please assist me in my death." Is there a house for that anywhere? Is there a place anywhere that is dedicated to a Decent Death, a passing with dignity if not with at least some speed.
So I have another prayer: "Lord, give me Death before I put myself into Hell!"
Now THAT prayer might have raised some conversation around Dr. Welby's clinic.