Dignity in Dying: An Atheist's View

By way of Dangerous Intersection, I came across this sorrowful, beautiful story:

He spent his life conducting world-renowned orchestras, but was almost blind and growing deaf – the music he loved increasingly out of reach. His wife of 54 years had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. So Edward and Joan Downes decided to die together.

Edward Downes, a renowned British conductor who headed the BBC Philharmonic and served for five decades as a music director for the Royal Opera House, was going both blind and deaf in the twilight of his life. Joan Downes, his wife of fifty-four years, had been his caretaker, but she had fallen ill with untreatable liver and pancreatic cancer and was given just weeks to live. Edward decided that he didn’t want to go on living without her, and so last week, the two of them traveled to Switzerland to seek the aid of the assisted-suicide group Dignitas. At Dignitas’ clinic, they each drank a lethal dose of sedatives, fell asleep and died peacefully, hand in hand. (I got a lump in my throat typing that.)

But what really caught my eye about this story was its closing passage:

Edward and Joan Downes are survived by their children and grandchildren. The family said the couple had no religious beliefs, and there would be no funeral.

The Daily Mail has an excerpt of Joan’s last letter to her family, confirming that she, and most likely her husband as well, were atheists who did not believe in an afterlife:

The letter said: ‘Now, I must tell you that even though I had hoped to be around a bit longer, death doesn’t worry me at all.

‘I have no religion and as far as I am concerned it will be an “offswitch” so after you have thought about it a bit don’t worry.’

It concluded: ‘It has been a happy and interesting life and I have no regrets. I have no idea how long I will last but I send love to you all and your extensive families.

‘Enjoy it while it lasts.’

The Downes’ courage and peaceful acceptance, not just in facing but actively seeking out a dignified death, shows clearly that a nonreligious philosophy can indeed offer consolation in the face of mortality. As Joan’s last letter said, death is nothing to fear: it’s merely an extinction, no worse than a dreamless sleep. Whoever has led a worthwhile and happy life has no reason to dread it. The only thing worth fearing is a life of pain and suffering, or the regret of not knowing that you left important things undone. And by exiting life on our own terms, we can ensure that we avoid both these fates.

Voluntarily laying down your own life is the ultimate choice of a free individual, the ultimate affirmation that our lives are our own and we may direct them as we wish. However, in the U.K. (and in most of the U.S.), assisted suicide is still illegal – a regrettably irrational view, supported in large part by religious medievalists who want to dictate to other people how to lead their lives. It’s not a wholly unreasonable fear that people may be coerced or pressured into ending their own lives, but that is a possibility that’s fairly easy to guard against. And the alternative – people forced to live out their last days in pain and misery, robbed of dignity, robbed of autonomy and freedom – is, I think, far worse by any rational accounting. Giving people the option to end their lives painlessly, if and when they choose to, is the most powerful proof that a society values human life as meaningful and treats it with respect.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • TommyP

    What a beautiful example of love.

  • Leum

    I also found this incredibly romantic.

  • http://weirdsanctuary.blogspot.com rodiel

    Totally agreed. I blog about this topic these days too, because I’ve chosen the same (reasons and all explained in my blog as well). It’s a shame that our law system is still just a glittery and overcomplicated version of the absolutist and mindless “morality” of the Ten Commandments.

  • CSN

    Do places like Dignitas only offer their services to the terminally ill? (Apparently not as he wasn’t though she was.) Perhaps over a certain age? My concern has always been who is making that call and what the criteria are. We don’t want people offing themselves just because they lost their job or for whatever reason don’t feel like going on when they may, with some counseling or what have you, change their minds and go on to live happily. I’m sure Dignitas has some kind of process for this but I think it is a reasonable concern that should be addressed, beyond the issue of coercion.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    … a nonreligious philosophy can indeed offer consolation in the face of mortality.

    I’ve found nonbelief to be far more consoling than belief ever was.

    Giving people the option to end their lives painlessly, if and when they choose to, is the most powerful proof that a society values human life as meaningful and treats it with respect.

    I agree. It’s strange that Americans seem to have more compassion for animals, whom we unquestioningly “put to sleep” when they are terminally ill, than we do for terminally ill people.

  • Alex, FCD

    We don’t want people offing themselves just because they lost their job or for whatever reason don’t feel like going on when they may, with some counseling or what have you, change their minds and go on to live happily.

    Regardless of what we want, this happens anyway. I imagine that if the suicidally depressed were to seek out the services of an agency like Dignitas they would be more likely to change their minds than if they were to attempt suicide through more conventional channels.

    Were such agencies legal (and they should be), I think it would be reasonable to require them to employ a psychologist or councilor to ensure that the patient is not suffering from clinical depression or something similar.

  • Scotlyn

    Several years ago, one of our lambs was attacked by a mink (an escapee from a mink farm up the river from us). The mink had broken the lamb’s jaw making it unable to suck and it would soon have died painfully of starvation. The vet could do nothing only offer a lethal injection. I held the lamb in my arms, and I could feel as its heart beat stopped. There wasn’t a jerk or a tremor or a grimace. Nothing. It was so peaceful an end to this creature’s pain and suffering, that I realised then that such a death would have no fear for me. To date, though, I have never even been tempted to consider it, life is still too full of interest, but still, I now know having witnessed it once, that the option is there.

    (The mink had already got the mercy of a bullet – whether it was as quick and painless I don’t know, I think almost. Several other sheep had suffered ugly wounds, from which they later recovered, so its death was to prevent further pain and suffering of others, not its own).

  • Ritchie

    A truly, and inspiring moving story. May we all be so lucky to meet our end with such bravery and grace.

    Yet euthensia as a general concept still makes me pause. Whilst I fully support peoples’ right to choose to die in cases such as the ones outlined above, it’s not just depressed people who might make this decision rashly. Imagine an elderly person feeling morally obliged to end their lives, not because they are tired of life, but just because they feel they are a burden to those who look after them. Should they be allowed to go ahead?

    I also found it odd when they said there would be no funeral. How does that follow from not being religious…?

  • Mad House

    To me it seems that the two major arguments against euthanasia are based in religious interpretation of the value of life and the worry that people who were not mentally well would seek assisted suicide services.

    Argument via biblical principles (The Vatican website includes euthanasia in a list of “crimes against life”) are, I believe, archaic in nearly all of their viewpoints, and euthanasia is no exception. I would make an argument for euthanasia, but it would merely mirror what has already been put forth.

    Of course you would have to place regulations on euthanasia, but this would not at all be difficult. Criterion would simply be based on the suffering of the person desiring treatment (what is the amount of suffering, effectiveness/possibility of treatment) and as has been mentioned by Alex, FCD a discussion between a psychiatrist and the person seeking AS might be required. This would effectively deal with the problem of depressed persons seeking suicide as a result of their owns feelings or seeking suicide because of coercion from others.

    Ritchie, concerning your scenario of an elderly person feeling morally obliged to end their life I think that that problem would be answered via a discussion with the psychiatrist; who would be able to determine the validity of the patient’s concern (I’m wincing looking at that run on).

  • Staceyjw

    True freedom is allowing people to choose what they want to do with their bodies, whether you agree with it or not (provided it does not infringe on anothers rights).
    Why need to allow a person to commit suicide for any reason (or no reason), as long as its their choice. Not everyone values or enjoys their life, you dont have to have a terminal illness to want out permanently.
    Who gets to decide whats a good reason anyway? This must be up to the individual, period.

    I do think counsuling should be mandatory, even if it is only one short session to confirm the persons last wishes, and to verify their decision. I think many suicides would be prevented if the person got to talk with someone first. I also think that the guarantee of a painless passing, handled by caring, non-judgemental people, would bring in many people that would otherwise die unnoticed.
    -Stacey

  • Staceyjw

    Oops, second paragraph- first word should be WE not Why. Sorry! -SJW

  • Ritchie

    True freedom is allowing people to choose what they want to do with their bodies, whether you agree with it or not (provided it does not infringe on anothers rights).

    I question whether this really makes sense when it comes to euthenasia. Most of us (in an ideal world, all) have people who love us and would be devastated by our deaths, especially from suicide. I’ve heard it said (perhaps unkindly) that suicide is terribly selfish. I’m sure this holds much less water when it comes to euthenasia specifically, but even so it seems to me that giving everyone the option to kill themselves just because ‘it’s their body and they can do what they like with it’ is to declare that we don’t have the right to care whether our friends and family live or die.

    Having said that, and doing a little online reading on this issue, I came across a woman whose father died leaving his children rather rich, but he died of a long, lingering illness and said he would not consider endnig his life because life insurance firms would class that as suicide and thus refuse to pay out. If euthenasia were legalised, at least it might be given an exemption from this life insurance suicide clause.

  • markystar

    wow…. this is one of the most touching stories i’ve ever read.

    i was very moved.

  • http://goddesscassandra.blogspot.com Antigone

    See, I disagree with the “barring depression”. Depression is a sickness, and if they can’t live with it, they should be able to go out peacefully if they feel like it. Yeah, it may be a terribly selfish act to some, but I don’t see why that’s the bar for what’s immoral and moral. It’s selfish of me to buy a candy bar when I could send that money to a good cause, but I don’t think that’s a good reason for me not to buy the candy bar. It’s selfish of me to move across the country to go to a college of my choice when my parents want me to stay close to them, but that doesn’t make it anything but my choice.

    Why the difference with suicide?

  • http://gcoupe.spaces.live.com Geoff Coupe

    You might want to read this piece from Boudicca Downes also: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/jul/19/dignitas-assisted-suicide-edward-downes

  • Ritchie

    The BBC did a wonderful drama starring Julie Walters (last year I think) about the true story of Dr Anne Turner’s struggle to fight for her right to die. I found it on youtube. I don’t know how to do links, but here’s the address:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a80aSibKdG8

    It comes in about nine parts, but it’s a must-see for those interested in euthanasia.

  • CSN

    Antigone: ‘See, I disagree with the “barring depression”. Depression is a sickness, and if they can’t live with it, they should be able to go out peacefully if they feel like it.’

    1. Depression is a treatable condition, hardly terminal.
    2. It is a condition that compromises rational thinking.

    I think many or most people know someone who has suffered from depression and wanted to end their lives at some point or even attempted to. Once/if said person gets the help they need they will probably be very glad that you didn’t hand them the loaded gun.

    What if a person is experiencing a temporary desire to kill themselves, say something drug/alcohol induced. It’s their life, should they be allowed to? They’re not in their right mind and neither is a person suffering from depression.

    And whether an act is selfish is a perfectly good criteria for morality. If you are in a position to help and make a difference you are socially obligated to do so, in whatever manner you think is best. That’s not to say you have to deprive yourself of the pleasures of life in the process. Go ahead and buy yourself your candy bars but if you are Bill Gates and you buy 100 billion candy bars for your own consumption and do nothing for anyone else, I call that immoral.

  • Tom

    It’s been remarked above that nonbelief is more consoling that belief, which seems strange when one considers that one of the primary raisons d’etre of religion is to counter the fear of death. The thing is, by claiming there is existence beyond death, they don’t so much solve this problem as simply assert that it’s not actually a problem at all. The faithless, in comparison, have no alternative but to face death squarely.

    I suppose it’s to be expected that you’d get more sincere sympathy from the latter group. Personally, if I were grieving for something or someone, I wouldn’t want to hear placating stories about how it’s actually part of some bigger picture, or that it’s not as bad as it seems; all I’d want to hear is “I understand.”

    It’s strange, however, that religious groups who essentially downplay death (standard Christian dogma essentially seems to be that death has been conquered and tamed) often seem to take a much stronger stance against such things as euthanasia and suicide than the average atheist. Perhaps those who join such faiths do so because they have a greater fear of or inability to deal with death than those who do not, which the placating notion of an afterlife appeals to but somehow doesn’t actually negate.

  • Justin

    Giving people the option to end their lives painlessly, if and when they choose to, is the most powerful proof that a society values human life as meaningful and treats it with respect.

    I think the more relevant consideration is why the individual values their own life. In my view, people value, or should value life because of the opportunities for happiness and fulfillment it offers. However, someone who is terminally ill or clinically depressed isn’t able to take advantage of those opportunities. The importance of the person’s life is not diminished by their sickness, of course, but if it is a choice between avoiding a painful death and continuing to live but without the ability to live life to the fullest, then I believe that we cannot fault people for freely choosing euthanasia.

    Personally, I think that euthanasia should be allowed for the terminally ill, provided it is their choice and theirs alone, but I am not so sure about it being available for people suffering from depression. As said above, (IIRC) depressed people are not able to think rationally about their choices.

  • http://goddesscassandra.blogspot.com Antigone

    To CSN-

    Depression really isn’t treatable- you have your choice of therapy (that doesn’t work for most people) and drugs (that have a lot of drawbacks to them, the number one being they make you feel like a zombie). And of course, this assumes you have access to either of those, and if you live in the United States, that’s really unlikely.

    And I think you have to defend that “it isn’t a rational decision to end your life”. We have quite a lot of instincts for self-preservation, but instincts aren’t the same as reason. For some people, life just sucks, and the pleasant or happy just is outweighed by the sucky. To say it isn’t “rational” is really stretching it.

    And yeah, I do agree you have responsibilities to your community. But, you picked the one that had to straight with pleasure, and had to exaggerate it to make it immoral. How is taking one’s life any more selfish or immoral than doing something your family doesn’t want you to do?

    I’m also not saying that you should give a suicidal person a loaded gun. I’m just saying I don’t see why it’s immoral to let someone kill themselves if that’s what they want to do.

  • Alex Weaver

    And I think you have to defend that “it isn’t a rational decision to end your life”. We have quite a lot of instincts for self-preservation, but instincts aren’t the same as reason. For some people, life just sucks, and the pleasant or happy just is outweighed by the sucky. To say it isn’t “rational” is really stretching it.

    Depression is a neurological condition which severely impacts judgement, among other things, to an extent comparable to the impact of alcohol intoxication in some cases. Thus the rationality of any decision made under its influence is suspect for that reason. This is very different from arguing that “it isn’t a rational decision to end one’s life [in general].”

  • Leum

    A potential problem with forbidding euthanasia for the depressed is that all extremely debilitating conditions that might lead one to want to die are also common sources of depression.

  • KShep

    Wow—what a moving story. And for me at least, timely as well, since I just endured the month-long hospitalization and subsequent death, on June 23rd, of my mother. She was only 62. She went on and then off life support three times before she died, never able to build enough strength to survive on her own.

    The reason I burden you all with this is because all during her hospitalization, my brother and I repeatedly had to make medical decisions for her based on what was best for her, and temper those decisions with her own wishes, which we have long known. She didn’t want ANY life support—but that’s such a simplistic statement, isn’t it? I mean, there are a lot of grey areas to navigate through when it comes to defining the term ‘life support.’ Is there a reasonable chance she’ll respond to this treatment? Is a breathing tube really “life support?” How about kidney dialysis?

    All during this ordeal, I continually questioned every decision we made—and it nearly drove me crazy, let me tell you. Things like: What is MY motivation here? Am I being selfish? Maybe she really wants to live this way—-who am I to say? Did I do the right thing? etc. etc. (I’m still doing this)

    I live in Michigan—the home of Jack Kevorkian. I’m reasonably certain most readers here know who he is. We were treated to the Kevorkian show on all Michigan media for years, and one of the pro-lifers arguments against him and euthanasia was the fear that some family members of an elderly rich man would somehow manipulate the system to get Grampa to commit assisted suicide so the heirs could cash in. I think this is a legitimate concern (the only one they managed to make, if you ask me), although one that can be overcome with proper precautions put in place. During my mothers ordeal, I constantly questioned my own motivation (not because she was rich, which by any definition she wasn’t, but because I just wondered if I was making decisions based on what I wanted, not what she wanted), especially after we removed life support for the final time. It was agonizing, and I haven’t slept well in weeks.

    I guess I’ve run a little off-topic here. I’m trying to find the words to tie this all together—I’m not the most skilled writer. I know I continually thought about dignified death during my mothers ordeal, something the religious are stupidly opposed to.

    I am certain of this, though: euthanasia should be legal and available to anyone of sound mind who wants to use it. My mother felt the same way, too. Kevorkian was on to something—too bad the religious nuts went ballistic about it.

  • Virginia

    Depression is treatable, but there are some extreme case where the person is totally rendered “disfunctional” and cannot lead a normal dignified life. They could not work, could not participate in any social interaction, cannot establish human connection, and live in misery.

    Treatable has to be qualified carefully, if you cannot give them back a “life”, I can only call that “controllable by medication”.

    The medication is expensive, and if you go for less costly ones, the side-effects are debilitating too.

    There are a lot of chronically depressed people I knew and some are just struggling to maintain a mere existence

  • Alex Weaver

    A potential problem with forbidding euthanasia for the depressed is that all extremely debilitating conditions that might lead one to want to die are also common sources of depression.

    Depressed mood is not the same thing as clinical depression.

  • Ritchie

    Antigone

    How is taking one’s life any more selfish or immoral than doing something your family doesn’t want you to do?

    I’m also not saying that you should give a suicidal person a loaded gun. I’m just saying I don’t see why it’s immoral to let someone kill themselves if that’s what they want to do.

    I write this very hesitantly as it is an extremely delicate topic and one which I do not have a great of experience with, but an act of suicide will ruin more lives than that of the person involved. If I, for example, decided to take my own life on a whim, my parents and friends may well be not only devasted, but wracked with guilt for the rest of their lives. They may constantly be haunted by questioning what they should have done to help me and ‘if only… if only’. Such guilt ruins lives. This is simply a natural consequence of loving someone, even just as a friend. So I think it would be extremely selfish of me to kill myself FOR NO GOOD REASON.

    That said, I do think euthanasia does hold morally. It is generally an act of kindness, and about merely ending suffering. I think it is very mature to face up to the fact that there are some conditions in which people simply can not be helped, and it must be extremely brave of a person to accept they have one.

    KShep, that’s a very moving story and I can’t imagine what you went through but if you want my well-meant-but-probably-condescending opinion, you did the right thing. I don’t believe in moral absolutes, and sometimes killing can indeed be an act of kindness. If you were in your mother’s shoes would you have wanted your children to act any differently?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    KShep –

    In 1989 my step-mother and I removed my biological father from life-support. It is indeed a wracking decision. She and I went by my father’s wishes, though, and I found my peace with our decision through that knowledge. I hope that you too make your peace with what is one of the most difficult decisions a person can face.

    My condolences on your loss.

  • Scotlyn

    KShep – I think the process you describe – that of constantly questioning every decision, probably confirms that the decisions you made were the absolutely best (at least in the moral sense) that could be made. Your decisions would have been much more suspect (as would anyone’s) if you had failed to subject yourself to such inner questioning. Now that that the need for such difficult decision-making is finished, I hope you can give yourself a break and be at peace. I’m sorry for your loss. You’ve been very eloquent about what was involved – thanks for sharing here.

  • http://superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    Voluntarily laying down your own life is the ultimate choice of a free individual, the ultimate affirmation that our lives are our own and we may direct them as we wish. However, in the U.K. (and in most of the U.S.), assisted suicide is still illegal – a regrettably irrational view, supported in large part by religious medievalists who want to dictate to other people how to lead their lives.

    Hmmn. I disagree. This is not a black and white issue and it is not only religious medievalists who struggle with it. The termination of your life affects so many more people than just yourself. Plus, the only people I’ve known who have considered or attempted suicide have been depressed, and not in their right frame of mind. I am not hard set against assisted suicide, but I simply can’t dismiss the issue the way you have here.

  • Staceyjw

    Isnt it also selfish to make someone live that doesnt want too? Those left behind are often sad, but I dont think anyone that truly loves someone wants to see them in misery. And yes, life is misery for some, and there is not always a solution. Lots of people think about suicide, but not many go through with it. I have had a few people close to me commit suicide, and even though it was sad, it did make sense.

    It is just a question of freedom. Whether or not its selfish, rational, immoral, etc, having full control of your body and destiny is whats important.

  • Virginia

    In face of ailing health, and the prospect of loosing a lifetime love, I think Sir Edward and Ms. Downes did their best of keeping the impact to their children minimal.

    Yes, it is sad to say goodbye forever, but the children knew full well that Sir Edward will be wilting away soon. Rather than going separately he choose to leave with Ms. Downes as a couple, is perhaps the best closure of a lifetime love story.

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    I grimace every time I hear someone argue that a person should receive “counseling” or that suicide could never be a rational choice. Either you own yourself, or you don’t. By most people’s definition, it is not possible to be sane and want to kill yourself. Why not? Be very suspicious when someone trots out the word “selfish.” There’s always a controlling agenda there. Nobody owns you, not even your children or friends. It’s your life. Spend it or end it how you wish!

    I suspect the real reason assisted suicide engenders such fury is that it exposes the cowardice of a society which simply deals with death through denial. Most people would rather others suffer torment in silence rather than allow them a freedom which comes with the slightest measure of social discomfort.

    I should be so privileged to die in peace holding my lover’s hand. I aspire to such a death. Circumstances conspire most of the time to prevent that choice and cause cruel suffering when one half of a long-term pair is stolen away prematurely, or has to watch the other waste away.

    *That* is inhumane.

  • Alex, FCD

    Virginia:

    Depression is treatable, but there are some extreme case where the person is totally rendered “disfunctional” and cannot lead a normal dignified life. They could not work, could not participate in any social interaction, cannot establish human connection, and live in misery.

    And in this case, I’m perfectly happy to let assisted suicide be an option. I would just like a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist to make the distinction before the choice is made; just as I’d want a good doctor to certify that the patient’s cancer is terminal before the decision to end his or her life is made.

    The medication is expensive, and if you go for less costly ones, the side-effects are debilitating too.

    Well, while we’re dreaming, let’s have free health care for everybody as well as legal euthenasia.

  • Scotlyn

    Blacksun

    Why not? Be very suspicious when someone trots out the word “selfish.” There’s always a controlling agenda there. Nobody owns you, not even your children or friends. It’s your life. Spend it or end it how you wish!

    Blacksun, here are some actual suicides that have occurred in my neighbourhood in recent years.
    1) A man recently separated from his wife, and very angry, hung himself in a place that he must have known would lead to his body being found by his seven-year-old son. Not selfish, perhaps, but very very vengeful – “see, son, what your mother made me do.”
    2) A woman, depressed, who hung herself in the hallway of her house, where either her long-term partner, or her 17-year-old daughter would be the first to find her. Who knows?
    3) A woman who drove her car off the pier, killing both herself and her two young children, strapped into their car seats in the back. Her ex-husband was heartbroken as he loved them all to distraction.
    4) A 15-year-old boy who skipped a family celebration in order to put together various pieces of a shotgun his father had hidden all over the house, and then, the next day, asked his mother to wait two minutes in the car while he collected something for school, went in and blew his head off, leaving his mother to find his bloody remains.
    I think what people mean by “selfish” is that the effects of a suicide in the family, particularly, for the people who find the remains, reverberate within them and within their families for whole lives, whole generations. Nobody “owns” anyone, but our interdependence, and web of caring, embed us so closely among our significant others, that it gives us responsibilities towards them. People who are depressed (or angry) may not be capable of thinking through the long term effects of their decision on people who, in their more ordinary states of mind, they would do everything possible to avoid hurting.

    A close friend of mine told me last year that about 15 years ago I stopped her taking her own life. I hadn’t realised it at the time. She had miscarried and was suffering badly from depression. I had simply asked her if she would keep me company during a three day car journey – we each had a baby or toddler to take with us at the time. I had no clue at the time, but as she recently told me, that journey saved her, mainly by distraction. Her family is an incredibly happy one, and she is now delighted not to have imposed such sorrow and unhappiness on them as would have resulted if she had followed through.

    I’m not arguing against you in an intellectual fashion. It’s just that I wonder if you are as familiar with the potential fall-out and effect of a suicide? and would you be so sanguine if you were.

  • Scotlyn

    The difference between the stories I’ve just told and the story Ebon posted about, was that in that case, the couple remained aware of their responsibility to their family members – to explain, to reassure, to comfort. They went ahead with their decision, and it was theirs to make, but they took care to minimise its impact on the people they knew would be most affected.

  • http://goddesscassandra.blogspot.com Antigone

    I grimace every time I hear someone argue that a person should receive “counseling” or that suicide could never be a rational choice. Either you own yourself, or you don’t. By most people’s definition, it is not possible to be sane and want to kill yourself. Why not? Be very suspicious when someone trots out the word “selfish.” There’s always a controlling agenda there. Nobody owns you, not even your children or friends. It’s your life. Spend it or end it how you wish!

    I’ve always wondered that myself- if you want to kill yourself, that’s enough right there to make you crazy. Why? If you don’t enjoy your life, I don’t see suicide as any less rational than walking out of a movie that sucks half-way through: sure, it MAY improve, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to. What’s so great about living that it’s carche blanche preferable to death?

    And in this case, I’m perfectly happy to let assisted suicide be an option. I would just like a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist to make the distinction before the choice is made; just as I’d want a good doctor to certify that the patient’s cancer is terminal before the decision to end his or her life is made.

    Why does someone have to talk to a shrink? I mean, I’m capable of figuring out whether or not I like chocolate or vanilla, and neither one of those choices make me crazy. Why can’t I decide if I whether or not I prefer death to life?

    And yes, it is true that it would hurt people. But, as I mentioned before, lots of decision that one makes hurts people, even if that is not the intention. I left religion, and that really hurt my parents (my dad in fact told me that I should just pretend to still believe to make my mother happy). I went to school on the opposite side of the country and that made my friends unhappy because I left them. If I end up going to Japan for a year to teach English, that’ll make my husband unhappy. All of these choices are selfish, and make people unhappy, but they are still perfectly rational, moral decisions to make. What’s the difference between that and suicide?

  • http://goddesscassandra.blogspot.com Antigone

    As a small addendum, as a feminist, I always get a little nervous when someone claims doing something “selfish” is bad, because that is probably the number one accusation lobbed at women- it’s “selfish” to want a career, not to have kids, to keep one’s own name, to spend some time relaxing as opposed to working on the house, to have outside hobbies, et cetera. I don’t mean to pull this off talking about the topic at hand, but just as sort of an explanation point.

  • Ritchie

    Antigone -

    If I end up going to Japan for a year to teach English…

    Really? I’m just about to go and do exactly that in South Korea! Apparently the whole experience is amazing (and rather lucrative too :) )!

    But going back to the topic, it was selfish of your parents to expect you to stay within the religion in which you were raised. That was an expectation they put onto you, and to reassert yourself there is not selfish. It is just to defy their expectations of you. The same with your friends. It would be rather selfish of them to expect you to stay where you are your entire life just so they’ll have you around. Again you are simply defying expectations which have rather selfishly been imposed on you by others. The same with the feminist points. It would have been selfish of your husband to expect you to stay at home with the kids, and to live for his domestic convenience.

    These are all unreasonable expectations to make of other people.

    But if you killed yourself, you would be denying no-one’s expectations of you other than to stay alive. The people around you love you and want you to propser (if that doesn’t sound too Star Trek…). If you think we should not make this expectation of each other then we will indeed end up not caring for each other at all. We will have to dismantle (to borrow Scotlyn’s phrase which I love) our web of caring by which we are joined to those we love.

  • Alex, FCD

    Why does someone have to talk to a shrink? I mean, I’m capable of figuring out whether or not I like chocolate or vanilla, and neither one of those choices make me crazy. Why can’t I decide if I whether or not I prefer death to life?

    You can (well, you can’t, actually, under our current legal system, but you know what I mean), but it should be an informed decision. The ‘shrink’ tells you “we can’t do any more for your depression than we already have done”, or “your last doctor was an idiot, your depression will probably improve on such and such a drug regimen” or “these symptoms might be biological rather than psychological in origin. I recommend that you get an MRI of your thyroid before you go through with this”.

    This is exactly the same reason why we would have terminal cancer patients talk to a qualified oncologist before administering assisted suicide: it’s obviously going to have an impact on your decision if she says “the average patient with this type of a tumor lives for about three years with aggressive chemotherapy” rather than “that’s not a tumor, it’s Dr. Chaudhry’s thumb print.”

  • KShep

    Ritchie, Thump, Scotlyn–

    Thank you all for your very kind words. I still haven’t been able come up with the words to connect the experience of my mothers’ death with assisted suicide. It’s one of those thoughts that sometimes pops up and seems so obvious but when I try to describe it I can’t come up with a rational-sounding explanation. It’s hanging right there—just out of my minds’ reach.

    Dammit. Should have taken that creative writing course when I had the chance.

  • http://goddesscassandra.blogspot.com Antigone

    Ritchie-

    Just to clarify, those were “for instances” not anything that was specifically done (for instance, my friends were very supportive when I moved. I don’t know if I’ll actually go to Japan, but my husband is super supportive of that, as well as my feminism. My parents did get mad at me for leaving the religion, though.)

  • http://goddesscassandra.blogspot.com Antigone

    They were unhappy, though.

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