Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why die with just Dignity?

It’s a new year,  which naturally leads us to contemplate the inexorable certainty of our collective demise. Death has been more prominent in the news than usual, as of late, and this prominence has been occasioned by a greater than average number of controversies about the end of life. I just don’t understand why it’s taken us this long to get all worked up about it. It’s not like death is a new thing. And isn’t it true what they say about one door closing? I think that ushering in a new decade should inspire us to think about the wealth of opportunities inherent in these inchoate dialogues about the end of life. 
It was inevitable that I eventually actually write a post that has something to do with ethics and not just the questionable behavior that may or may not get me thrown into prison internationally. And I have been galvanized by the recent repeal of death panels, the foundation of which I admit I had been looking forward to with great anticipation. But although reasonable precautions to ensure autonomous decision making at the end of life are no longer funded by the federal government, I am pleased to announce that there are a few praiseworthy philanthropists taking the bull who has Parkinson's by the trembling horns and moving to address the needs of the people.
I admit that I initially experienced a minor qualm of lumor about writing this post, since I have no desire to address the question of death with dignity itself but rather to examine some of the fringe specimens who have used it to further the exploitation of the dying; and since it's my blog I reserve the right to call Mitch Ablom an asshole. Also I have some legitimate concerns about furthering press or publicity for these clowns. But if y’all have heretofore been unaware that dead people can be either buried or cremated, and that there are different types of ceremonies for different beliefs, I highly doubt that I’ll be doing them or you any favors, since you’ll probably choke to death trying to order a shakeweight from your microwave with a kazoo and no one will find you until it’s too late anyhow.
It’s clear that several enterprising individuals have appeared on the horizon, anxious to fill the need in all our lives, or rather, all our deaths. If there’s one thing we all have in common besides a genuine desire to avoid another novel by Dan Brown, it’s a willingness to capitalize on the last great undiscovered country. I am not talking about space.
I have been surprised to discover over the last few years that very few people have had the cojones to both identify and exploit the ridiculous capital just waiting to be amassed in the lucrative field of demise. There is a reason that funeral homes look like mansions, folks, and it’s all because there is MAD CASH to be had in corpses. Death is like a money factory if you just know how to look at it.  It’s like that saying about life handing you lemons - When life hands other people lemons, just have some invention ready to turn those lemons into a direct deposit into your bank account. Let’s take a brief look at some innovators in the burgeoning field of death.
First up is the man we in the field consider the father of financial fatalism, the tycoon of the terminal, Swiss Lawyer Ludwig A. Minelli.
Minelli founded his organization, Dignitas, to provide a care institution where people can go to kick the bucket, or in some cases, have the bucket kicked for them. Dignitas accepts substantial donations and bequests from its patrons, though unlike private schools in Texas, they will still cooperate in hastening your death if you can only pay their fee. The institution specializes in assisted suicide for individuals with terminal physical illness, although in some cases will euthanize those with "severe mental disorders", provided that they demonstrate full competency at the time the request is made. I’m not sure exactly how the hell they think they can provide an objective assessment of capacity in those whom they also intend to extinguish. It remains a mystery of the ages. In case that inherent contradiction left your head intact, Swiss law states that assisted suicide is legal only under conditions in which those assisting do not benefit personally or professionally from the death. As long as there is no evidence of self interest, it is perfectly within the confines of the law to run an establishment that accepts significant donations in return for gently and prematurely enabling the divine immortality of hundreds.
As always, there are cynics who decry the existence of true altruism, and impugn these heroes with aspersion and vituperation.
Soraya Wernli, a nurse previously employed by Dignitas, has described the institution as a “production line of death concerned only with profits.” To which we respond,
So what if Minelli has accumulated literal MILLIONS since founding an alleged non-profit? So what if dozens of unclaimed remains were unceremoniously DUMPED IN A LAKE IN URNS EMBLAZONED WITH THE NAME OF THE CARE HOME?  So he’s either terrible at advertising or not very subtle about littering.  So what? Neither was Arlo Guthrie, and he’s a national hero. 
This next profile cuts a little closer to the quick, primarily since this innovator hails from my beloved hometown, Portland, Oregon. But also because I admit to being a little jealous that I didn’t get there first. Oregon was the first state to legalize physician assisted suicide, and has since provided both a practical and ethical framework for other legislation, both within the United States and internationally. While most people were just sitting around appreciating the increase in options surrounding decisions about end of life care, geniuses like Dr. Stuart Weisberg were finding ways to pull in the greenbacks hand over fist  revolutionize how we die. Dr. Weisberg transformed his home in Portland into a “Dignity House,” where, for 5,000$ (N.B. this is 263.16$ LESS than it would cost to be ushered into oblivion at Dignitas) you or your terminally ill loved one (or owner, if you happen to be a dog – Dignity house is completely pet friendly) can relax on specially chosen linen sheets, and have your last moments, if not your soul, be immortalized by an “End of life Camera” which costs 600$ extra and is mandatory. Here I will repeat that last little tid-bit for emphasis in case you missed it. A recording of your death is mandatory. A mandatory, 600$ recording of your death. You are required to have your death recorded. For 600$. WHO THE FUCK WANTS A RECORDING OF THEIR OWN DEATH. WHO THE FUCK EVEN MORE WANTS A VIDEO RECORDING OF SOMEONE ELSES’ DEATH? Other, optional charges include 400$  be soothed by “End of life music;” 200 minutes of “soft piano” which I guess is guaranteed to make you die better, 400$ flowers from Weisberg’s very own garden (a one million dollar value!) and 25$ for “actual end of life theme” composed for each individual personally by perpetual songwriter Randy Newman. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate adjective. Also I may or may not be making up the part about Randy Newman. You could check for yourself, but surprisingly, after Weisberg had his medical license suspended for negligence and incompetence, wish for an indeterminate hiatus from the troubles and stresses of philanthropy,  his website, has stopped updating. I know you’re as shocked as I am. Here, check this out instead! Oh my, did I accidentally link you to a list of professional sanctions against Dr. Stu? Oops. My bad.
Since I know you, like me, are simply DYING to hop on this bandwagon, and since I know that you, like me, consider yourself an ingenious pioneer with higher than average penetration and discernment, I am opening up this once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of something truly great. Hence the title of this post, and the true question of a great people who command a standard of everything that is distinctly and comprehensively more better:
Why die with just dignity?
Following in the footsteps of my inspirational mentors, Dr. Million-Dollar-dump-the-body and “Dr.” tax-deductable-costs-of-the-Enya-Karaoke-CD, I too am opening my home to those who want assistance in dying.  But I am offering a service far superior to your regular, run of them mill, out with the tide sort of death.  For a reasonable fee, I offer the death of your dreams! We provide our very own death panel accredited committee of death specialists to help you become the architect of your own undoing. We provide the atmosphere, the props, the requisite catering, wardrobe, cast and standard maintenance of the principle figure. The cost includes limited cleaning afterwards, though please note that the standard cleaning fee will not be sufficient for all packages. Many “themed deaths” in our signature “designer demise” line will require additional deposits and securities, such as those which necessitate the acquisition of special licenses, exotic animals,  or equipment rentals. Some of our most popular deaths include “Star Wars Adventure,” “Wild West Extravaganza” “Roman Holiday,” “Persian Wedding,” “The Wrong Bathhouse (18 and over only),” “Wordsworth Medley,” “Heroic Self-Sacrifice,” “Too Many Cookies,” “Hey, Bro, Watch This” and “The Last Lion-tamer.”
For our Platinum members, we are pleased to offer a new line of services, “Celebrity Knock-Offs.” These extra special pro-death-tions (!!) are designed to emulate for the discriminatory decedent the final moments of the lives of our most legendary stars! Currently available are the Mama Cass package, the Elvis package, the (budget option!) Elliott Smith (some assembly required), the Isadora Duncan package, The James Dean package, and the Albert Dekker Supreme package (21 and older only). All of these but the Albert Dekker can be additionally customized with the Houdini underwater adventure add-on for a nominal fee.
Why not? You can’t take it with you!
So please join me in putting the “Art” back in “Departure.” We are taking back "petard," and then we are going to hoist the hell out of ourselves! Just the way we've always wanted. The way we deserve. Because why die with just dignity when you can have it all?