A Dying Shame

OPINION

BY MEGAN MANSELL

For a country so hung up on the final wishes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it’s a sad kind of irony that since early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the rest of us have faced isolation and despair in our final hours if hospitalized, with our last wishes and words unquoted, as we writhe and struggle for breath before our sparks escape into the ether, surrounded by masked strangers, barred from a familiar hand to hold. A new contributor of voicelessness has emerged: the silent death. 

The isolation and loneliness we have all faced since the advent of lockdowns and mandates are seemingly minor issues when compared to the real atrocities that have become commonplace: our citizens are forced to die alone, give birth alone, and recover from trauma and life-altering occurrences without the support of those we love. With a current U.S. death toll of 212,994 attributed to COVID-19 out of 2,374,189 total U.S. deaths reported by the CDC in 2020, how many of our kin were part of that number, alone, barred from affection?

A conversation regarding death with dignity and representation is long overdue, as are the relevant conversations on medical advocacy and right to refusal of medical interventions. I would gladly risk contracting COVID, a contagion with a recovery rate over 99.6%, to give my relatives a watchful set of eyes and a voice expressing their choices and intentions when faced with life-threatening conditions, often compounded by unnecessary medical interventions. Wouldn’t you? 

When we break down that massive number on a case-by-case basis and learn that it includes people such as elderly nonverbal individuals with Down Syndrome who die scared, confused, unable to make medical choices for themselves, and utterly alone, we humanize our statistics and see that the choices being made for us are reckless and go against established human and disability rights practices. 

Before they get to death’s door, many of our citizens face neglect and declining health, as they are prisoners in adult care facilities and nursing homes, separated from human contact and the stimulation of the outside world. For many, their once-vibrant souls already lost to worn-down synapses and the discombobulation of memories half-lost, the touchless world full of masked strangers is cruel punishment for a crime never committed. We must demand that these heinous crimes against humanity come to an end, replaced with dignified measures that allow us to celebrate life’s most poignant moments with grace and dignity, as we would all wish in our final hours.