The Heart asks Pleasure first

by Emily Dickenson

circa 1862

The Heart asks Pleasure first
And then -- Excuse from Pain --
And then -- those little Anodynes
That deaden suffering --
And then -- to go to sleep --
And then -- if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor --
The privilege to die.

A verse from one of my favorite poets , Emily Dickenson, that speaks to me eloquently about euthanasia. While I doubt that "the Belle of Amhurst" actually had euthanasia in mind, as the topic would have been unheard of, or at least unmentionable and unthinkable in her time, she certainly must have seen friends or relatives enduring the cruelty of natural terminal illensss and hoped for a merciful release, and here she unmistakably recognizes that when life no longer holds pleasure or any relief from suffering , then death becomes a privilege or a liberation.
I first read this verse in my teens, and for many decades thereafter I remembered the final line as "the liberty to die", which is how the line is given in "A Pocket Book of Modern Verse". However the authoritative "Final Harvest, Emily Dickenson's poems" gives it as "the privilege to die." This book is also the source of the date as circa 1862. So the potential cruelty of unassisted natural dying is not a recent invention of modern medicine, althought of course modern medicine has augmented and prolonged that cruelty beyond anything Dickenson might have seen or imagined.
This verse belongs in every veterinarian's intellectual and emotional toolbox as a source of comfort and support to clients in the process of euthanizing a beloved companion or in the process of grieving a death. It should also be burnt deep into the consciousness of every M.D. And most of all , it is something we all should recall and use for supporting ourselves and our friends through the ending of life, whether natural or assisted.




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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 4/18/05 revised 5/30/05
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