On Voluntary Self-extraction

October by

I wrote the following last spring for an elder college Hot Topics session in Sechelt and ended it with a version of “Hang on Folks” that I recorded a few years ago. With just shy of twenty people attending, everyone spoke to the topic in the first go round, which, according to the chair had never happened in his time in that role. The session ended before everyone who wanted to speak again could.

I gentled the lyrics for this session, being older, wiser and a little less confrontational than when I wrote and recorded the song, essentially replacing ‘you’ with ‘we,’ feeling by now more ‘included’ among those for whom it might have the most immediate personal relevance. It made for a better song on its own merits. I’m fond of it and give you the lyrics and the existing recording at the end of it.

I got lots of love and kind comments after the session.  It was, well, whelming.


As I intended in suggesting it, this topic was not about suicide as carried out for the generally understood range of reasons, but about age-related decisions to end lives that, for instance, might be considered by those living them to have run their course, quite possibly satisfactorily, and/or to have little upside left to them.

We are the first broadly-based generation to live, en masse, well beyond any biological need to do so. The received perspective is that this is, nevertheless, a good thing. Our circumstances allows us to rely for the duration of our time, most of us in the developed world, on reasonable comfort as well as on access to pain-limiting measures of one kind or another.

We should by now know that many of our fears about life were never justified and that keeping us fearful usually served one vested political, social or economic interest or another. As does fear of dying.

The global pain-management market was worth around $30.9 billion in 2007. It is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.63% to reach $40.6 billion by the end of the 2012. “ (BCC Research.”) Population aging is no small part of that. (as an aside…..delay in treatment is also a fine revenue aid.)-

Most of us have experienced our lives and ourselves in ways that are becoming less available to us as we age. Ours have been relatively informed and empowered lives. The personal power we chose to discuss here under euphemistic titles akin to ‘ voluntary self-extraction’ and the like, is that of terminating our particular experience of ‘being’ by our own choice….at a time of our own choosing. This might include employing legally sanctioned assistance but doesn’t exclude acting independently.

I think about this…..not obsessively….but intermittently, as a practical option to continuing on if I come to see no good purpose to it. I segue into the personal because there is no decision more personal than the one we are discussing. Should I choose to end my own life at some point I want to avoid triggering my imbedded, instinctual, desperate, terrified survival response and I could well do without pain.

I would want, literally, to avoid leaving a mess for somebody else to deal with….just in case they and you are not highly complex, sophisticated creations of my own imagination but are actually real in your own right.

There’s the rub. Children, grandchildren and great ones, are overwhelming likely to be dedicated to the intrinsic worthwhileness of life, as suits the stage of it they are experiencing or perhaps their adopted or imposed beliefs.

Here we may come up against the appearance/reality phenomena so deeply ingrained in human experience. As we become ‘old’ how much of a role do we actually play in the lives of such folks and they in ours…..beyond token ones? This is not a village we modern folk live in… with experiences substantially identical and linked to those of prior generations. Our lives have been characterized by far greater separation, differentiation, independence and consciousness-sucking complexity, for better and/or worse.

Living such lives it is not surprising that we may well consider the choice to end them to be our own prerogative just as the choice not to should belong those who would not, whatever their reasons

Information on facilitating ones own departure is easily found on the web.

In my recent experience reference to a strong disinclination to go out via the route of progressive decline comes up almost casually in conversation with my chronological peers, in passing, as it were.

The wish to consider this openly isn’t surprising given the broad interest in the individual psyche, a byproduct of 20th century availability of information on the topic and of the terminology with which to discuss it. Along the way to this state of affairs many taboos have been examined and set aside.

To openly discuss our own deaths and the option of triggering them ourselves….the alrightness of dying, the acceptance of it without necessarily attaching regret or even what might be called pre-mourning to it might simply be more of that.

And there is no telling….open and fearless examination of dying might generate a whole range of beneficial changes in how folks choose to live. With that in mind I did prepare myself to shed a little lightness on our theme.


Hang on folks, here’s a hard little truth

That we tend to ignore in our extended youth

Now I’m just the messenger so don’t shoot me

Its said of the truth that it can set you free

One day you’re going to die and so am I

That’s how come I wonder why

Us human beings are so damned contrary

When everything about us is temporary

Well of course you’re going to die and so am I

Does that seem like a personal kind of a thing to say

Well if you don’t like to get it right between the eyes.

I’m perfectly willing to euphemize

There will come a day for our demise

For our denouement….for our passing away

  We will leave the field, we will get on that plane….

  We will melt like snowballs in the warm spring rain

Now I’m not saying this to make you sad

Its not some morbid tour through the Land of Drab

But we’re temporary guests on this earthly plane

(Though some folks think we might be coming back again)

So it might do to think about the way we behave.

Before we leave this body in the grave

Oh,there I go again, another graphic reminder

That when the spirit leaves

She don’t leave much behind her

So when we’re driving along in these here corporeal cars

We might want to do it with love and care

Cause we aint going that far

And when you’re free of your bod it might be nice, I mean

To look back down here at an earth that’s still green

And If we’re grateful guests then while we’re alive

We might want to do what we can to help the planet thrive

This is Mother Earth folks, it’s not some seedy inn

Its’ not an ashtray for us to butt out in

And it does no harm to remember that we’re mortal

And we’re taking nothing through that pearly portal

Though there might be a point to come our way if we let it

And if there’s a point to be had……….

I like to get it

Yes I do

I like to get it and I bet you do to

Shedoodly bop

She doo doo

Whap bap

Be doo doo

Shu whap bap


Diddle dee dee


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