Thomas Jefferson said it best when he wrote that all men are "endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights" including "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
In the decades since Jefferson penned these words, we have struggled as a nation to apply this ideal resulting in an every greater awakening of human rights for all, irrespective of gender, race, national origin, sexual orientation and disabilities. But something that is often forgotten is the unalienable rights of seniors as they begin to lose their mental capacities.
Life is the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity and continual change. Life for us is that period from our birth to our death. In the Jeffersonian ideal - how one lives that life is up to the individual. As we age, we generally develop an idea of what is an acceptable quality of life. However, as we grow older and lose our functionality life decisions and health decisions are not under our control anymore. In today's society when an elder starts to lose his/her mental capacity and memory all their decisions are taken away from them including the conditions under which they live and die.
Liberty is the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views. One of the first abuses of a senior's liberty is compulsory retirement. Age discrimination in the workforce is causing many seniors hardships. Our streets and homeless shelters are filled with seniors that are facing discrimination every day. Although some homeless make that choice themselves, a large percentage are forced to live that life – often because they do not have the income to secure the fundamental necessities of life, including adequate shelter and food.
The pursuit of happiness is defined in the Declaration of Independence as ‘the right to freely pursue joy and live life in a way that makes you happy’. Provided that you don't do anything illegal or violate the rights of others, you are allowed to pursue this “happiness” as a free person until you lose your mental capabilities - then you become a ‘happy incarcerated person’. Sadly, happiness and joy can be fleeting moments in senior care facilities as anxiety, fear, and depression are common concerns with almost every patient.
As a person loses their physical and mental abilities they also start to lose their inalienable rights. You have the right to determine how to live your life - but what about the right for self-determination in the ending of life… Shouldn't we have the unalienable right to dictate when our quality of life is unacceptable because of loss-of-dignity and/or unbearable physical or mental suffering? If we do not fight for our inalienable right of self-determination regarding our ending-of-life, and for the right to have those wishes adhered to even if we reach the point where our mental capacity is diminished then that determination will be made by others – including those who profit from extending our life when we have lost our dignity and are in pain and suffering.