My uncle died in August. He keeled over from a heart attack while working a lathe at the technology company he founded, a few days shy of his eightieth birthday. After ten minutes without oxygen, he was put on life support in hospital, but in any meaningful sense he was dead before he hit the floor. After he'd spent a week in a coma, during which his doctors confirmed through responsiveness tests that he was brain dead, his wife and children gathered in his room, said their good-byes, and pulled the plug.
Now, I liked my uncle, and I'm sorry he's gone. But he had a great life, and he died almost instantaneously doing what he loved. I'd call that a great death. On reflection, I was envious.
I read a couple of years ago that on average we spend as much on our healthcare in the last two years of life as we do for the entirety of our lives beforehand. I've now squandered several hours on trying to confirm that figure. The wildly contradictory results of that internet search were a real lesson in statistics (don't believe them). Nevertheless, estimates of the spending spree that Americans in particular seem to go on in the two years before death range from 30 per cent to as high as 80 per cent of lifetime healthcare expenditure. (One study found that Canada spends 30-50 per cent of its healthcare dollars just on patients' final six months.)
Medicare, America's universal healthcare for the elderly, spends 40 per cent of its budget on those last two years, a big whack of that on acute Intensive Care Unit care in the last month.
The Republican Senator Chuck Grassley famously inflamed American hysteria about healthcare reform by declaring to an Iowa town-hall meeting in August, "We should not have a government programme that determines if you're going to pull the plug on Grandma." So I'm going on the record: I'm all for it. Pull the plug on Grandma! I'd print up the slogan on a bumper sticker if it would fit on my bike.
So I'm hereby volunteering to save everyone a bundle and throw in the towel on my last two years. While I'm not a grandma, I do have nieces and nephews, so let's pull the plug on Aunt Lionel. Lest that seem noble, I'm betting that those last two years won't be my best.