Not long ago I found out a man I used to work with was diagnosed with ALS. In my day job, I help employees who have disabilities and need a leave of absence or help performing their jobs because of those disabilities. Naturally he called me.
He was the exact opposite of how I’d be if I just found out I had a protracted, terminal illness: calm, plan-full, laughing, resigned. Although, he did tell me a secret: “I have a wife and daughters, and I have to be strong for them. But when I’m in the shower, that’s when the tears come. I do my best crying in the shower.”
We talked about the company’s different leave of absence programs, medical plans, life insurance, and short- and long-term disability benefits. He told me he hoped he would realize when he was no longer able to work and “bring value.”
“I don’t want someone to have to force me to leave.”
Of course, I wondered what would I do if I were him. And the answer came to me without hesitation, like an eager understudy waiting in the wings.
I would commit suicide.
Not right away.
Not while I was still relatively healthy.
Not while I could still take care of myself.
But right before I felt like I was becoming a burden on my family.
Just before I felt like I didn’t have control over my life anymore.
I knew this because of the man I’d watched die a few years before.
A documentary called “The Suicide Tourist” featured that man. His name was Craig Ewert, and he had ALS. When I say I watched this man die, that’s exactly what I mean. He traveled to a clinic in Switzerland called Dignitas, and with his wife by his side, he drank a lethal cocktail of drugs followed by a chaser of apple juice. A few minutes later, he died.
John Zaritsky, the Canadian director, received a lot of flack for showing the actual moment of Ewert’s death. But he had a good reason to do so: “It would be less than honest if we were to make a film about the process and not actually be able to see the ‘hole in the hat’ as it were,” he said. “We would be left open to charges that the death was unpleasant, cruel or wasn’t even done willingly. People can judge for themselves.”
And I did.