Conscious Dying or Suicide: What is the Difference?

A  few weeks ago, Phyllis Shacter wrote to tell me about the death of her husband, Alan. After learning that his Alzheimer’s was advancing, Alan decided to die by his own choice, starving and dehydrating himself until his body gave up. This is a legal procedure now known as VSED (voluntary stopping eating and drinking). You can hear Phyllis tell how it happened in the video below. Theirs is an intimate story, which she delivers with genuine emotion and compassion. It will not fail to inspire you, but it will also bring up questions–When is a suicide a suicide and when is it conscious dying?

I am often asked by people with end-stage diseases what will happen to them in the afterlife if they take the same route, forcing their own bodies to shut down by drugs or VSED. There is no one answer to their queries. It depends on a person’s state of mind at the time of death, and on their motivation. In the video, you will learn that Alan died with grace, without fear and in peace. One reason he was in peace was because he chose not to be helpless. He took action and “did” his death.  He chose how and when he would pass, and he made it happen. Was this suicide? He didn’t think so.

Alan’s death could not help but remind me of my mother’s in 1993. She had had several catastrophic strokes that left her in an irreversible vegetative state. A few weeks after, I saw my brother, who had passed ten years before, descend through the ceiling, wrap his arms around her energy body, and take it up with him. That was undoubtedly the real moment of her passing. Nevertheless, she, or rather her body, remained in the hospital for four more months, attended by a private nurse and kept alive by a feeding tube inserted into her stomach. In the third month, her body began expelling the tube. Doctors would reinsert it and she would again expel it. This happened three times. At that point, my sister and I knew she was desperately trying to kill off her own body. We decided to take her home and to starve and dehydrate her until it gave out. Remarkably, it took my mother six days, three days more than the doctors gave her. She was waiting to die on my brother’s birthday. Was this murder? My mother didn’t think so. In subsequent after-death communication, she expressed nothing but gratitude for what we did.

I have worked a lot with people with advanced Alzheimer’s or in comas. Many of them are already dead, in my way of thinking. They have permanently left their bodies to operate them on a kind of remote control, if necessary, and moved on. Once in awhile, they will reinhabit their bodies briefly before death to convey a message or say good-bye. When we do make contact with people in the afterlife whose bodies lie in comas or are barely functioning with severely deregulated consciousness, such as Alzheimer’s, most of them will tell us with astonishing clarity and decisiveness to stop helping their bodies survive. In our present understanding, we define alive and dead materialistically, by the body’s condition. In the future, I hope we will be wiser and understand that alive and dead transcend our materialist viewpoint and depend rather on an individual’s state of consciousness. This is a complicated issue that I will write about more extensively later.

Because each of us decides inwardly how and when we will die, each of us commits suicide in a certain sense. Yet there is a difference. Those who take their own lives by shooting or hanging themselves, overdosing, and the like are usually acting out of despair and self-hate. They have not solved the life problems they came here to work on. Nearly always, they bitterly regret their actions after death, and are shocked by the violence they inflicted on themselves. I have already written a number of posts about this.

Alan’s circumstances were quite different. He had had a happy, successful life and a loving marriage. He knew he was reaching the end and did not want to enter into the helpless-dependent stage that most Alzheimer’s patients wade into. Nor did he allow his death process to be commandeered by the medical industry. What he did is in line with what other animals instinctively do when they sense the time is near–withdraw, stop eating, stop drinking, and just “do” their deaths in trust.

After his death, he has been a wonderful communicator, speaking to many people, not just his wife. He reports great clarity and involvement in service. One of his chief objectives on the other side is to shed light on the real nature of death and dying, and to broaden the choices we make at the end of our lives.

I hope you watch Phyllis’s heartfelt video presentation. She made it at her husband’s deathbed request to spread the word.

We both look forward to your comments.