Beautiful final exit
Late President Roh Moo-hyun was very considerate when he asked his security guard to fetch a pack of cigarette before he jumped off the cliff.
It was a beautiful final exit, which is comparable to a Samurai’s honorable seppuku (suicide by slicing his own abdomen with a dagger). With no witnesses, the security officer might have had a lot of work convincing people of his innocence, or that he didn’t push the former President.
Suicide is legal and assisted suicide is not. Some 110,000 South Koreans attempt to kill themselves annually for a variety of reasons. Whatever the reason, attempted suicide is not illegal.
It is one of the ironies of modern medicine that technology can now prolong life past its natural span. And once those miracle machines of devilfish’s hands are turned on, it is illegal to turn them off. We are sometimes faced with very tough choices in the name of medical progress.
So as unnatural as it may seem to take one’s own life, some say ungodly, is it any more natural or godly to live hooked up to a machine because one’s life has been extended by science? Some people want to eke out every second of life ― no matter how grim ― and that is their right. But others do not. And that should be their right.
One of my brothers was terminally ill, all medical treatment acceptable to him having been exhausted, and the suffering was unbearable. He also had numerous other illnesses which, singly or in combination, would eventually have killed him. It was a matter of which illness got him first.
He longed to die. ``I pray to God to take me now,” he would say. But he lingered on for months and suffered physically and mentally. Standing by his death bed watching his unbearable pain, I was tempted, many times, to help him go. His exit wasn’t beautiful.
There is a small mountain in the western Seoul city called `Mt. Nogo, literally the mountain for abandoning infirm elders. In the olden days, people might have brought, or wanted to bring, their frail elders to dump on the mountain.
There are two legends of ``ubasute,” or abandoning old women, in the distant past in Japan. During a time of drought and famine, a son carried on his back his infirm mother deep into the mountains. On their way she stretched her hand catching twigs and scattering them in their wake. The undutiful son asked why she did that. ``So you won’t get lost on your way home,” replies the perpetually loving mother. He turned and carried his mother back home.
Another legend of ubasute made a strong impression on Albert Einstein during his visit to Japan in 1922. In a severe famine, a young man put his disabled old father on his carrying-frame to dump him in the mountains.
Curious, his young son followed them. The man unloaded his father with some food and water in the woods and left his carrying-frame there. “I won’t need this,” mumbled the father. “Oh, I’ll need it, dad,” said the boy. He put his father back on his back. The grandfather, son and grandson all returned back home.
There is no record of why and how Einstein, one of the most influential scientists of all time, was so amazed. A simple assumption might be that the physicist too was concerned about getting through the final obstacle of the exit gate.
Instead of using the carrying-frame, we call an ambulance to deliver or God forgive, abandon, the elderly who are sick or suffering from dementia to the hospital in either a bumper or famine year, which is legal. It seems to me the Mt. Nogo or ubasute solution appears to be the more beautiful choice than riding a noisy vehicle to a geriatric ward. Only it’s illegal.
The writer is a retired architect-specifications writer, who shuttles back and forth between Seoul and New Jersey. Email him at email@example.com.