Por Irina Pino
HAVANA TIMES — Last night, while channel surfing, I put on Pasaje a lo desconocido, a show aired by Cuban television, hosted and directed by journalist Reinaldo Taladrid. Though I don’t make a habit of watching the program, I did this time because the issue addressed was both interesting and controversial: euthanasia. Delicate and rather painful, this is an issue whose consequences we must confront.
The show followed an old man with a terminal illness who travels to a medical center in Switzerland, where he is to be assisted in dying. The old man gives his full consent, apparently with the full use of his mental faculties.
Choosing to Die is narrated by Terry Pratchet, a writer suffering from Alzheimer’s who confesses he would rather die than be unable to write. After accompanying this patient and witnessing the man’s planned disappearance, he begins clinging to life and his work as an artist with more resolve.
First aired by the BBC in 2011, the documentary prompted a broad range of reactions, as the patient’s assisted death was shown in its entirety.
The Cuban doctor interviewed for the show said that euthanasia or assisted suicide is illegal in Cuba, and the Cuban medical doctors tried to help patients have a “good death,” providing the terminal patient with all of the needed conditions for this. This does not hold for patients who are in vegetative state. Some have remained in this state for long years.
I can understand that someone may want to end their suffering and decide to die. It can be devastating for relatives and people close to that person, though any death in a hospital tends to be rather impersonal and cold. The machines connected to the body make the patient less human, and many doctors treat people like robots, showing them no sensitivity. Illnesses and death are a part of their daily routine. To put themselves on the other side and show at least one gesture of compassion, to offer the patient a hug, a consoling smile, isn’t hard, and it comforts those who survive the patient.
“Death has no dignity.” I recall hearing this line in the film Wit, starring Emma Thompson. In it, Thompson plays an English literature professor who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her life is turned upside down and she begins a slow transformation. Her loneliness and isolation grows in the hospital the days leading to her death.
Psychiatrists tend to say that the wish to die stems from depression. That said, one also requires strength to be able to say: “I don’t want to be burden, I don’t want others to see me waste away.” Only those who go through this hell are aware of what that is like.