Greedily, I want the right to live AND the right to die

On Monday, I agreed to become one of the many patrons of Dignity in Dying. here are some of my thoughts on why I said yes. As usual I wrote far too much, so I have severely edited it. I hope it makes sense. Happy to have appalling spelling, punctuation or logic pointed out to me (thought don’t be too picky)

“I don’t feel it’s our obligation to choose for someone else how much pain and suffering they go through”  The words of a nurse after trial of right to die campaigner, Jack Kervorkian

I believe I only have one life. It is the life I am living now on this planet. When disease or age destroys my ability to think and breathe, to be aware of myself, then that’s it. The me that is me is gone. Physics offers some cheer. At least I know that all atoms that are currently gathered together in the shape of me will go to making other stuff in this universe for as long as it exists, just as they have been spread around all sorts of animate and inanimate things over billions of years. The particles that make you and me have been many things before and will be many things again. They are not my atoms, they are the universe’s atoms, I’ve got them for a while, many of them fleetingly. There goes some of my skin dust again.

I find the idea that enough atoms put together in a certain way can make a mind that is aware of love, death, pottery and the universe, startling and odd, but I am glad of it. The downside of these minds and their self awareness; their ability to prepare for the winter and coach their offspring to adulthood, is that with the prescient ability to have a sense of the future, we can also see that one day we must die. It’s a daunting prospect to know your thoughts and memories will one day end In a society of so many consumer choices, there will come a point when, however much we wish to still live, our death will happen. Though there will come a time when we run out of ways of avoiding death, I believe that in certain situations we should have the choice of dying before nature insists upon it.

I have recently become a patron of Dignity in Dying, an organization that campaigns for the right to assisted dying for those who find the agony of their life too great. When I tweeted about this I called the organization’s campaign an enlightened one.

I was taken to task over the idea that a society where assisted dying is legal is an enlightened one.

I believe the desire to live, especially for those who see no glow of an afterlife, is too great for us to just switch off our existence on a whim, as some of those against assisted dying seem to suggest.  Some  critics commented, “there must be other options?”

I think there are other options, assisted dying is not the first and only option, but the final one, when all else has failed and no hope can be glimpsed. It is not about people feeling a bit down on Tuesday and lying in the morgue by Thursday.

I do not know at what point of pain or sense of futility I would give up my life. I try to imagine it. I am sure that the childless have a burning urge to live too, but as a parent, the idea of leaving my son fatherless makes me feel physically sick. From the transcripts I’ve read of those who have chosen to die, all possibilities have been discussed on many occasions and, with a frightful battle against their innate senses, a love has been shown, the love that accepts a family members wish to die, an understanding that that wish can only come from unbearable suffering.

I try to imagine what situation would be enough for me to choose death. I think of what I have just done in the last few seconds – I have picked up a banana and taken a bite from it, grasped a coffee cup, tasted and swallowed a swig of it, typed this sentence (I still am), inhaled with ease and turned without aid to look at the sun reflected on the overgrown banks of the railway. I briefly imagine all of those simple things lost to me. Would I want to live without even those simple actions available to me? I don’t know. I hope I might find some solace somewhere, but I can also imagine that the loss of dignity in my existence would eat away at me. I would like to know I could grasp hold of the right to die when I wished, to know that if I saw no life beyond a hell and that when all those around me failed to persuade me that I should live on, I was permitted to take the greatest decision of any life.

I have heard people say that to choose to die is to take “the easy way out”, I cannot see how knowingly ending all your experiences of your world is “easy”.

There is also evidence that suggests that mere availability of the choice of assisted dying offers relief. Knowing there is a way out does not mean you will take it.

Some say, “there must be a better way?”

Hopefully one day through our scientific imagination we will find a way.

Perhaps there will be a way where people can escape from the cages of their bodies or have them repaired or even find some way of providing stimulation that will reduce the mental torture some face when disease or accident ravages them.

For now, to not give access to choice in when we wish to die, to see people dying before they wish because they will be unable to make their journey to Dignitas, to see constant living despair considered better than peaceful death, that is barbarism.

For some, who wake up from dreams in which they run to find themselves paralyzed and totally dependent, knowing there is the option of an exit when they choose can be enough to make life livable. What right have we to make those who see no end to suffering, those who have no chance of recovery, live a life without reward until natural causes finally take them?

Information about Dignity in Dying is here 

Peter Singer’s Rethinking Life and Death offers an interesting contribution on this subject

Here is a twitter discussion I had with Baptist Pastor Jon Somerville on this issue 

I am touring relentlessly and at the Edinburgh fringe for 13 days here 

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85 Responses to Greedily, I want the right to live AND the right to die

  1. Matt says:

    Good blog, as ever. Might I also add, though, that as part of the “other options” before dying, greater social care for people in need might be nice?
    The irony is that those who oppose the right to choose to die with dignity often also oppose spending public money to help those who need it, and thus force them down the dying route…

    • robinince says:

      the best possible care for the dying is something worth campaigning for and contributing to in whatever way we can

    • Justin Messenger says:

      The point the pastor is missing in the twitter exchange is that people are living longer these days not because god wills it, but because of advances in medical science. Is he suggesting that because we can keep someone alive that that is always the only option. In the future in may be possible to keep someone alive almost indefinitely with further scientific advances in medication etc. To force someone to stay ‘alive’ for years, decades, or who knows, hundreds of years maybe, even if they have consistently expressed their wish to die, but can’t physically take their own life, seems to me to be the ultimate in tortuous cruelty.

    • To Matt: I’ve noticed that social health care seems to be a controversial topic to discuss in the States and is sometimes side-skirted over because politicians fear backlash from opposing politicians or even voters. In Canada, we have universal health care and though the system has its problems, it is still great that it is in place when you need it. (There are some politicians here who are trying to cut down on the services offered and maybe altogether get rid of it, but I don’t think Canadians would stand for it)….For me, access to health care should be a available to all, regardless of how much money you make.

    • Trish Niblock says:

      These discussions focus on our beliefs for our futures when and if we are in a situation that calls for decisions that we are actually not free to make! But people who have not thought about being in this situation can suddenly find that they are IN IT! Dementia does not develop in a day but trauma on the road through being knocked down or in a crash can suddenly bring this topic into the here and now and ME. Suddenly there is no chance to choose anything not Robin Ince’s banana or that view that you loved as it always lifted your spirits or the freedom to move your position and ease the ache or the pain that is unknown to everybody around you as you cannot speak. How do we know what somebody who is alive but cannot respond wants? Perhaps we should all make it know to our families, our GPs, our solicitor and whoever else is appropriate our desire for our treatment or for an end to the life that has quite possibly already ended. The writer Matt said “The irony is that those who oppose the right to choose to die with dignity often also oppose spending public money to help those who need it, and thus force them down the dying route…” and also that the people who make these decisions are often NOT people who speak for us. I am not a Muslim, nor am I Jewish, or a catholic or any other “religion” I do not have to heed advice from the Head of my Church,
      I have my own spiritual beliefs. Soon id not already we will live in a secular society and then the decision about Dignity in Dying will not be taken by the wrong people as they speak for their own group and not for us.

  2. Wanda says:

    How dare you dare to dare to choose Death. You don’t choose breath or heartbeat. If you’re miserable and want to kill yourself HARD LUCK! Suck it up, take painkillers and anti depressants. Darwin and Hitler, Your mum and your son. You can choose to kill them anyway you want. But your ego doesn’t get the treat of suicide because you’re no longer the person you dreamed of being. Dignity is a middle-class luxury, not a right or part of evolution!

    • robinince says:

      I am sorry you find the best reaction to this is typed shouting. I am not sure how you turn this into class war. as for “is part of evolution”. much of what humanity does is no longer “as nature intended”

    • Ben says:

      I’m sure if you or your family were going through that kind of suffering the last words you’d want to hear are ‘hard luck, suck it up’. I suggest you educate yourself in the matter before making ignorant comments like these. You obviously didn’t read or understand this blog so go back, have another try an tell me he’s talking about people who are just ‘miserable’. I think your comment disgusting frankly. To have that little care for a human being’s utter agony is to me, very inhuman. If you thought you had the moral high ground, you’re way off

    • Luci says:

      I was wondering if you bothered to read the blog post before commenting?

      “I think there are other options, assisted dying is not the first and only option, but the final one, when all else has failed and no hope can be glimpsed. It is not about people feeling a bit down on Tuesday and lying in the morgue by Thursday.”

      As was pointed out, this is “the final option” it’s not something you can “suck up” – pain killers and anti depressants would’ve been a long time ago. It’s more about:

      “wak[ing] up from dreams in which they run to find themselves paralyzed and totally dependent, knowing there is the option of an exit when they choose can be enough to make life livable.”

      Frankly, your post seems somewhat callous. You can’t “suck up” debilitating diseases or being in prolonged agony, kept alive by machines. I think you might change your mind about dignity being a middle class luxury if you were in that position. And until you have been in the position where all other avenues have been exhausted and your existence is torturous and agonising (which has NOTHING to do with “the ego getting the treat of suicide” because you aren’t the person you thought you’d be) then how dare YOU speak for others on this matter.

      Death isn’t what’s being argued for here. A choice is.

    • Stacey says:

      That’s quite funny, I thought you were being ironic or sarcastic at first, but since reading Robins response I see you are not a happy camper.
      I assume you don’t believe in IVF or anything like that either then?
      What about if you have an infection and need antibiotics?
      Tooth ache, is it ok to go to the dentists for help and some pain killers?
      What about falling off of a cliff and not being able to can’t climb back up?
      Oh right, no, I see what you are saying, it’s ok to get medical care to stop your pain when you have a chance of survival, but if you have no chance of survival then you get no help.
      I disagree, HARD LUCK!

    • Hannah says:

      Thanks for your incredibly unhelpful input. Dignity is a human fucking right. Hope you can grow some empathy some time this century.

  3. Maurice Foster says:

    Is Wanda a Poe?

  4. missus edwards says:

    @Maurice: That was my thought as well; she is either an example of Poe’s Law or terrible at sarcasm.

    Mr. Ince, I dig your opinion and the overall message of your post, but your writing might benefit from some clarity in the structure of the sentences.

    “I don’t feel it’s our obligation to choose for someone else how much pain and suffering they go through” The words of a nurse after a trail of right to die campaigner, Jack Kervorkian”

    While it is clear that the nurse supports the right to die, what is she after? If she is after Jack Kevorkian, why is she after him? If she is after a trail left by him, I must say I don’t understand. Perhaps better to say would be –

    After the trial of right-to-die activist Jack Kervorkian in which he was acquitted of charges in the death of Thomas Hyde, a man suffering from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, juror and nurse Gail Donaldson said, “I don’t feel it’s our obligation to choose for someone else how much pain and suffering they go through.”

    or something like that. I by no means excel in the grammatical part of the English language and am not pretending to, either. This was just one example, though, there are several more throughout the post that should be addressed. Best of luck with your writing endeavors, please don’t take what I said personally.

  5. jtweedie says:

    I would recommend that if you get the chance to hear Tom Kirkwood talk you do so.

    He’s an expert on the ageing process, professor of medicine at Newcastle University, and I attended the most enthralling talk last night that covered the mechanisms of ageing, the evolutionary history that led to all of us today, and also a most moving answer to a woman who questioned what should be done with her when she can no longer think and make decisions for herself as she gets older. He’s very much in favour of bringing these discussions out into the open.

    I wrote a quick summary of his talk here: (any mistakes about the science in this are my own, as it was written from memory) and you can also listen to his Reith Lectures from 2001 here:

  6. For much of my career I’ve taught children with profound and multiple learning difficulties – these are typically people who have multiple sensory difficulties – blindness and or deafness, are likely to also have severe physcial disablities – often for instance involving cerebral palsy; and often further medical complications – for instance epilepsy, and/or the need for a gastric tube for feeding. All of these children will have the most severe learning difficulties – and are unlikely to advance academically beyond the sensori-motor period of child development which most children pass through within the first 12 months or so of life.

    When I hear the ‘reasoned’ arguments of people who say that they their lives are no longer worth living, and that they should have the right to have someone help them to take their own lives, two things strike me :

    The first is that the very complexity of their arguments, and the compelling intellectual liveliness of their debating tell me that the lives of these people – however diminished they may have become, are still more vibrant and fulfilling than those of the students with profound learning difficulties that I’ve taught – who are often in great amounts of suffering throughout their lives.

    The second is that it’s a small step from allowing someone to help an intelligent articulate person who has become disabled, to end their life; to allowing someone to end the life of a person with profound and multiple learning difficulties because their life is not worth living.

    I have gained great pleasure from working with those people, and many of them have gained great pleasure from my interventions – they have had fulfilling lives, often full of suffering, but always worthwhile. As soon as we decide that it’s OK to pass judgement on the value of a life, and to end it if we feel that it’s not up to scratch, then we throw ourselves down the slippery slope towards extermination of the old, the disabled, and the unpalateable people in our society. I for one feel that this is very wrong, and I don’t support you in your campaign

    • robinince says:

      this is someone passing judgement on their own life. this is not eugenics. I understand your point of view, but I do not agree that someone who finds their life agonising and medically knows that it will only get worse, has the right to ask for assistance to die.

      • Kev says:

        I agree with Robin here Northern. I find this issue one of the few contemporary political ones that I feel genuinely sure of, because it seems like such a no-brainer: Who are we to command the destinies of other people at such a fundamental level?

        The only logical argument (or at least, an argument with no kind of agenda) I’ve ever heard is this one you’re putting across. Namely, how euthanasia could be villainously misused by those outside the individual with the choice. But surely that’s a whole other matter to be addressed once this decision was made for our culture? We’re not arguing for a crap policy that allows people the right to die, but a carefully thought out, humanistic one – and one that I agree, would be a step toward some real enlightenment for our culture.

        Do you not think you are rather overestimating the slipperiness of this slope? I think people are smart enough to see the difference.

    • Robin says:

      That this discussion happens now, when funding for care is limited, and people are suffering at the hands of a heartless government makes this a particularly difficult time. But we are facing increasing advances in medicine that keep people alive – sometimes against their own wishes, and ethics is not keeping pace with those changes.

      This is something that leaves me torn, but I think it’s ultimately an access issue – why should I, as a person with independent mobility, be able to access suicide should I choose that, when someone with no independent mobility be denied that?

      Ultimately I do believe only the individual has the right to determine if they choose to end their life deliberately. All effort *should* be made to provide dignity in life – for people with the most complex and challenging impairments and the non-disabled alike. And I would like to see that provided before assisted suicide becomes available, but I similarly do not want to see people suffering when they would choose suicide were that route available.

      • Kev says:

        Jesus, I was going to respond… and then I saw this: Thought it might provide some #amusingrobinincerage.

        I’m always slightly impressed with how convincingly they make a case for their policies being, actually, when you think about it, if you look at it from an objective perspective… really really fair.

        Like yesterday’s defence of cutting disability welfare – “we’re going to give it to people even more disabled! We’re not monsters, it’s just too clever for you to understand how fair it is”. I have a tory friend that always tells me that actually, no, “taxing the rich to benefit the poor would not make a more equal society because of some really really clever economic stuff about wealth creators and global finance, that actually means we need to give more money to the rich – you’re just too bloody simple”. #weloveoppositeland

    • Derek Walsh says:

      Thankfully, I don’t have to make the case that you are using a slippery slope argument, as you freely admit this. There is a huge gulf between allowing people who no longer wish to live to have help ending their lives peacefully, and exterminating those that we decide are too disabled to live. They are not comparable and nothing about legalising the former would bring us closer to the latter.

  7. Martin says:

    Nice piece as usual Robin.

    As a childless person I have slightly different reason for supporting legal assisted dying. This is primarily that I believe the only people who should bear the burden of my dying carcass are family, and I have chosen to have none. If I am unable to look after myself I would like the choice to go quietly rather than burden people (some, but by no means all, of whom really don’t care,) paid by other peoples taxes, with this thankless task – and it is usually thankless.

    I also have a morbid fear of being trapped in my own mind without any ability to communicate.
    While I respect those who carry on in this condition I honestly would rather go.

    I am only just entering middle age so hopefully none of this will be relevant for a long time, but I personally thank you for working with those who are trying to give me the right to choose..

  8. Pigdowndog says:

    Your spelling and punctuation might be a little dodgy in places but the sentiments in your blogs are eminently sensible.
    Taking “the easy way out” is, as you say, exactly the opposite. I know, I tried.
    Thankfully I had two superbly sensible sisters ( forgive the alliteration) who nursed be back to a place where life was good once more.
    They had far more love and compassion than the above “Wanda” appears to lack. I sincerely hope she isn’t a nurse.

  9. Drew Peacock says:

    Although there is not much of a history of long drawn-out deaths in my family, I have already prepared for that eventuality. I have a phial of hemlock-root extract (the root was the part favoured by the Greeks as it does not cause vomiting) and a similar-sized one of morphine. I will finish off the cocktail with a good single malt and slip away on my own terms without the permission of doctors or priests. I will not allow myself to become physically (not too keen on the idea of economically either if I am honest) dependent on others as I have no right to waste their lives. Now that I have the end under control (at least in theory) I can get on with enjoying the remainder of my life free from the worries that haunt so many in old age. I did give serious consideration to my plan for terminal illness, which involved a waistcoat with big pockets, some explosives and some particularly odious politicians, but innocent people might get hurt.

  10. Stacey says:

    I completely agree with you, but don’t be too pleased as I also believe in the death penalty and cutting peadophiles cocks off, so I may just have a bit of a neanderthal killer instinct about me, who knows. (I do think they should reword the death penalty law though, the wording isn’t currently correct or something that I would agree with)
    I’ve always believed in someone having the right to die, always, i’ve never been in two minds about it, it’s just the right thing to do. There is no internal debate in my head. I’m very clear on that. Even if it is classed as murder. I don’t think that murder is the worst crime. (Adults raping small kids is the worst crime).
    And I hate to say it, but the people who wish to die as they are terminally ill have organs they could donate to people who have a chance of life, so for every door that closes…

    • megame73 says:

      I don’t believe in death penalty although i have an insane idea of sentencing offenders to be submitted for scientific study…like rapists for aids cure, drug pushers for cancer cure and the likes…(so sadist!) Well, if we don’t want that then don’t do anything stupid right?! 🙂

  11. Dan says:

    Beauitfully thought out and written Robin. Thanks for that.
    I suppose the real issues involved in this campaign are ethics and cognitive ability on behalf of the person in question. I’m not sure why taxes should feature in such a situation. Surely if the choice was made then it should be funded by a charity or the person who wants to end their life. Surely the goverment can’t tax everything!
    IF there is no cognitive impairment then i can’t see a reason to not facilitate it.
    The part about hold a banana and doing those little normal things in life really made me think. Again, thanks

  12. The Old Wolf says:

    Never mind those who “take you to task” for expressing your opinion, it merely shows their arrogance and inherent ignorance. Expressing an opposing viewpoint is another matter altogether – complex issues like this need all the civil debate they can get. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  13. Re3ecca says:

    This a brilliantly constructed argument… I totally agree that choosing to die is not an “easy” way out. People are living so long these days that the mind can outlive the body and vice versa. If it happened to me I think I would definitely get to the point where I wanted to die instead. It seems only fair that I could choose that.

  14. besttraveldeals4u says:

    You were not given the right to choose to be born and you shall not have the right to choose death. Sorry, I do not support your views.

    • robinince says:

      the reason we are not asked if we would like to be born is we do not exist, so the question is impossible. I believe once we are conscious we are allowed choices as they are possible. I am at least glad to hear that you are a pacifist

  15. Jonathan says:

    Robin, I wish I had your elegance with words!

    Some of my own thinking, not a blow by blow response, is now up, over on the red pill.

    I look forward to continuing this discussion

  16. missceirwen says:

    I agree that people who have no other option but a lonely life of pain and the inability to do anything about it and to do anything at all should be given the grace of choosing when they want to give up the battle of life, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Just because someone feels sad isn’t a good enough reason to resort to suicide.

  17. drndark says:

    Reblogged this on drndark and commented:
    It’s my life..

  18. Thank you for such a thought-provoking and sensitively written post, and for such an interesting debate in the comments. After following Tony Nicklinson’s heartbreaking legal battle over his right to die I struggle to understand why, in cases like that especially, he could be denied such fundamental rights over his own life and body.

  19. segmation says:

    Right now I am working on my will as I really want my family to let me go when it is time to die and have no legal battles. Death is hard enough and to have legal battles would not be fun for anyone. Right?

  20. kicmovement says:

    This was a great post, with wonderful insight. I agree with assisted death, I have seen people suffer for no good reason, and I do not want to go out that way. The question becomes a theistic question assisted death or not. Theist control much of our government, but that is going to change in the very near future. I predict we will have Gay marriage, assisted death, stem cell, and cloning by 2020, and the majority of our country will be atheist. =)

  21. Well, I had a large comment all typed out, but then my computer glitched and wouldn’t let me post it…. -_-

  22. There are a lot of people who walk around claiming to have all sorts of rights without even thinking about it. It seems that you have thought quite a bit about this though, and I applaud you for that—it’s refreshing. However, there are a few things that you seem to have left unconsidered (perhaps you addressed them in the longer unedited version of your post).

    First, it seems that you are assuming that one of the choices that we have a right to make as autonomous beings is how we will die. This seems like a strange right to me, so I think it’s important we are clear on what a right like this looks like. It’s either going to be a positive right or a negative right. If it’s a positive right then there is an obligation on others to make sure we die how we want to die—this seems problematic to me. It would mean that if we die in a way that is against our choosing (even if it is not at the hands of another person) then some other person is blameworthy—they were obligated to ensure our right was honored and they failed to do so.

    If the right to die in a way that we choose is a negative right, then this means (at the most) that nobody else may interfere with our death. This seems a more appropriate burden to place on others, and it would give each and every autonomous being the right to commit suicide without interference from others. However, I question whether we can get *assisted* suicide from this negative right. You may have a right to die without interference from others but you do not have a right to be assisted by others in doing so. This would mean that there is more work to be done in justifying assisted suicide from this negative right.

    I think the strongest argument for euthanasia is in the case of the consenting competent adult and it’s coming from an argument based on autonomy, but there is still the problem I presented above that must be addressed address. I just wanted to bring this to light for your consideration and perhaps hear your thoughts on the matter.

    • Rachel says:

      I hope Robin will forgive me stepping in to answer this interesting question.

      I take your point that a positive right is problematic, so the right to die the way we want must be a negative right. To see how that translates to assisted suicide, let’s think through the scenario. If I have decided that I want to die but am unable to commit suicide, I might ask my sister to help me. There is no question of her being obliged to help me, it is simply a request. She might or might not feel inclined to comply with my request. As things stand, she is prohibited from complying, i.e. helping me. If she helps me to commit suicide, the courts may find her guilty of murder. In the situation that Robin (and I) would like to see, my sister would be permitted to help me die without fear of going to jail.

      Perhaps focusing on my right to die doesn’t help if one wants to examine the argument technically like this. What we are seeking is to lift a prohibition. We want the definition of ‘murder’ changed so that it excludes cases where the killed person clearly wanted to die (with appropriate caveats and safeguards in place, of course).

      Nonetheless, it makes intuitive sense to frame this as a right. If I am suffering and unable to end my own life, the law currently prevents me from dying. From my perspective, the law denies me the right to die, even if it does so by prohibiting another person from acting to help me.

  23. Pingback: About the Right to Die | The Perpetual Student

  24. Well written. I agree 100%. I am the sole care giver for my father who is in his final stages of Parkinson’s and have been extremely blessed so far. But the fact of the matter is we do not let our pets suffer the way we let our loved ones suffer. Why is it that we show greater compassion for our dogs and cats at the end of their lives than we show for each other?

  25. Maggie says:

    This is a very wonderful and sensitive approach to the idea of a dignified death. Thank you for writing this.

  26. Sanaanda says:

    You may have a MUCH longer life in the New World if that is our choice.
    It is the path of choosing to become aware of the current transformations forwarding ASCENSION.

    In Loving guidance

  27. zachbissett says:

    Obviously the trouble with this is people with clinical depression, or something like that…that’s a treatable illness where a young person might feel the desire to take their own life, when in reality it’s not what they want at all. That is a very complex issue.

    However if someone in their later years is suffering from organ failure, great physical pain and general immobility, and they wish to end their life…I do not see any sensible argument against it. What purpose is their to keep someone alive who no longer wishes to, or even feels, alive?

  28. Franco says:

    This was a very brave post for you to write. I can’t believe how many people think that their choices should be everyone else’s. None of us can know the pain that someone who chooses to die is going through, it’s simply unimaginable. So how can we stand on a soap box and demand that they live with it? It’s simply not our right to dictate how someone chooses to live and how someone chooses to die.

  29. marymtf says:

    Say, ‘choose to die with dignity’ and who can argue with you. It has a fine sound. And I’m sure that there are many people who can’t take it any more who would be grateful to be allowed to slip away quietly. The thing is that if it was ever made legal those people wouldn’t be the ones who would get to choose. It might start off like that, but after a while some bean counter is going to say (a politician probably) that medication and hospitalisation is expensive. Why not ease the feeble elderly out of existance and save the hospital beds for people who are going to add to the economy once they get out.
    Of course it wouldn’t be done directly like that, or straight away but a bit at a time until it was normalised. Then, after a while the politicians would be looking around and asking, who’s next? What about children who need medical help and government subsidised carers all of their lives? The list is endless and somewhere in the world is a future politican who will be eager to find ways to improve the budget.
    But it’s already happening in some situations. My father was in palliative care. He wanted every minute that was owing to him. He was in pain, but did not want to go until he had to. The average life span in palliative care is three days. My father clung on to life for 11 days before the nurses withdrew his medication and he slipped into a coma and died. So, if you think that decisions aren’t being made already, you’d be wrong.
    I’m sorry to be so negative. In an ideal world, giving people a legal chance to die with dignity would be a great thing.
    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  30. belle morgen says:

    I agree with the sentiments in this post. I have never quite understood why governments have the legal right to take someone’s life, but an individual does not have the right to end his/her own life. This is a topic I have thought about a great deal ever since the concept was introduced to me as an essay topic in high school. Surely, to deny an individual the right to end his own life is as man-made as a law can get. There is no moral code that is being defended here. Why should someone spend years of their life suffering and in pain, artificially propped up continuously by medication and medical equipment if they don’t wish to be? Who are we to force them to do that? And are you really “living” in such a condition? Death is a part of life and as much as we don’t want to face it, we should not let others suffer because we won’t let them go.

  31. ravensmarch says:

    Funnily enough, I was giving a stoic meditation to this very notion, predicated on the recent putting down of a pet and the odd difference in end-of-life care between humans and animals who are (by way of example) profoundly cancerous. Where, one with the luxury of treating the question academically wonders, do the graphs of pain, interest in the ongoing wonders of life, and concern for the reactions of loved ones finally cross in such a way that self-euthanasia is the right thing? I hope to not be presented with a practicum in the question any time soon, but I certainly believe that it is a valid route. If “Do no harm” is the underlying principle of the medical profession, then the same contemplation invariably leads to the conclusion that not putting an end to intolerable pain is definitely doing the patient harm. Wholesale slaughter? No. But certainly an admission that, at some point, enough is enough.

    …for all that a wandering passerby is an authority on the matter. I can also say, in an uncredentialled way, “Excellent post!”

  32. sarahyeung says:

    This is a great post ! I’ve often wondered about the subject myself – how I will handle death, would I mind , would I be sad etc. And I’m someone who doesn’t believe there’s any certain glow for the afterlife ( actually makes me glad ) But for some time now I’ve been almost at peace with this subject because I agree that nobody should forcefully make anyone ‘live’ , even if you’re in the worse possible condition just to prolong the stage where yes your heart is beating and your eyes are fluttering. I wonder and almost apprehend , on the future possibilities that our technology’s imagination will lead us to though, because advancing to a stage where the population is exponential isn’t a great solution either.

  33. megame73 says:

    Where do we draw the line? Are we talking about people who had lived their lives and we decide to..’ah ok, you’re done here. Level up or game over!’ Who will decide when you lose your sanity to dementia or after brain damage? Doctors? nurses? family?
    Infants who are born with severe defects or mental damage, what is dignity for them? These are not sarcastic questions but real ones as I am a nurse and deal with these situations very often. I don’t believe in euthanasia but I do believe in balance and nature. I encourage our doctors to give morphine to patients suffering from pain but not to end their life!

    • robinince says:

      i presume you didn’t read my blog post as the questions you ask have nothing to do with the content

      • megame73 says:

        I did read your post and the pastor’s post and your twitter exchange. It is about the right to choose but isn’t it a universal truth that we all have a choice? No one can ever prevent us from committing suicide and I don’t think we will care what will be said or done after that as we are already dead? I don’t think you were asking for your right but you were asking for the society to do it for you? To make it easier for you to do it? If you are in a situation that you are not able to execute it physically then it will be on someone else’ shoulder. “When disease or age destroys my ability to think and breathe, to be aware of myself, then that’s it.”
        Dignified life…how do we define it? I am not arguing against your right; I am just saying let us not make it a law as it will be another thing to be misinterpreted and be abused later on because there is no definite definition of a dignified life.

  34. I think we should have a service like any other that can help individuals kill themselves. I know it sounds weird but why not? if the individual signs his life away, gets an okay from family, and gets his/her head check out and determines everything is fine, then it should be allowed. Jack Gevorkian’s ideology

  35. shlunka says:

    Who knows, with the recent discovery of Rezveratrol “don’t think I spelled that right” the average life span may be increased 20-50 percent. Couple this with rapidly advancing medical technologies, within 50-100 years getting old and dying from weakness may be but a dark memory of human history. I can only hope that by the time death is knocking, I have had my share of life, and do not wish to embrace it anymore. I do not believe in afterlife, and I think believing this makes it that much harder to accept dying. Amazing post, I really enjoyed reading it.

  36. My father passed away 9 years ago from advanced lung cancer. Watching him deteriorate during the last few weeks of his life was very difficult. No person should have to suffer at the end of their life. A person should be allowed to die with dignity.

  37. Somehow I don’t see this as an easy way out. Have a DNR, living will all signed and discussed with friends, family?

  38. Amy E says:

    We are not allowed to be in charge of our own bodies in America. It’s like with wearing seatbelts. Everyone knows they protect you but it should be our own decision if we want to wear them.

  39. Enjoyed your views and opinions – thank you for your blog
    Congrats on being FP

  40. This is such an individual matter. It requires great thought and awareness of our beliefs. The question is do we have the right to make such choices? I’m not sure we have a uniformed, system in place to help people make these choices. It requires a multidisciplinary approach with a thorough assessment. I’ve come across elderly patients who have wanted to die. Once treated for depression they no longer felt this way. There was a will to survive. I have come across other patients who were elderly and ill who have wanted to die without being clinically depressed. They reported being “done” with their lives, having no more resources or purpose and ready to go. These individuals are frustrated with the system and the inability to be set free.
    Much work needs to be done in this area. It requires the respect of the individual’s culture, religion and a good assessment of the situation. This is the case were a blanket policy will not cover the complex issues around death and dying. I do believe that as we are integrating health and global systems we are moving closer to a more humane approach.

    • robinince says:

      My post was dealing with people who are not suffering depression or feeling down, it was people who physically will continue to decline as in the case of Tony Nicklinson. as for people’s religion and culture, it is about their choice, so yes, that is taken into account.

      • robinince, good clarification. Your post was wonderful. I felt the needed to add the depression component as I have worked with elderly who are ill and have seen choices change, and yes it does come down to choice. No one wants to suffer or see others suffer. I have and it can be cruel and heartbreaking to see this delay and yet death, when it comes can be peaceful with relief. Death and dying is one of those topics that people avoid. We need more dialogue and education so it is not feared.
        Your post helps increase awareness and gets people talking. Thank you.

  41. Miss Molly says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Before my father passed away (in January) we had LONG talks about his ever decreasing quality of life and what he could expect with his deteriorating condition. Having been a caregiver for many years I had already seen what he was going to experience and I will tell you that upon his death I was actually grateful that he died when he did – before he suffocated to death as a result of his condition.

    The day that he was in the hospital and asked his physician if “this was it”, the physician answered “I’m sorry to say that it is”. My daddy responded with “well then, let’s get on with it”. He was ready. Surrounded by his loved ones he went peacefully (and not fearfully) to his next phase.

    The hardest part was watching my uncle (his brother, and a physician) chastise us for not doing everything we could to SAVE him… there was nothing to save. My father was very clear about his end of life decisions and we honored those. We made him comfortable, loved him and were there when he took his last breath. My brother wrote a very touching tribute to my daddy –

    Truer words were never spoken. I too would like to ensure that I have the right to live AND the right to die. Thank you again.

  42. parliamentaryowl says:

    While I agree with your post heart and soul, I have to point out we deny people the right to die with dignity every time we strap someone to a gurney in a prison infirmary and poison them to death. or every time we fire a drone at unarmed civilians in Pakistan in a lottery to kill an Al-Queda leader. Or send a crack military team to shoot an unarmed criminal in the chest and face in his bedroom. It’s a wider field which needs to be served by focus on all the issues.

  43. janina says:

    To quote Robin: “For now, to not give access to choice in when we wish to die, …. to see constant living despair considered better than peaceful death, that is barbarism.” I agree! Man is the animal that has forgotten its roots in the wild. What happens in the wild? Monkeys fall out of trees from the canopy on high (called ‘falling off the perch’), break bones and are left to die. There are no nurses, hospitals, ambulances or caregivers to make it better for them. Hopefully, for the monkeys, eventually a vulture or other predator will come and give them a speedy death.

    Man, once he/she has fallen off the perch, should be allowed a speedy death; that is natural. Anything other than that is further exploitation, only for others’ benefits. Remember: the world is already over-populated! And, No, I’m not Hitler!

    • megame73 says:

      🙂 I don’t know about other people…but i refuse to be called an animal. In fact, we are all here reacting to denial of rights. Animals cannot do that. If we are animals, we wouldn’t be here conversing thru internet because we will not be able to evolve the way we do now. Monkeys stayed the way they were we didn’t (no matter how much we educate them in the laboratory)! Surely, that is a big difference.

  44. philosophirish says:

    Thanks for your thoughts on a difficult subject. Two things came to my mind as I read them — and I should preface my reply at this point by stating that I endorse a person’s right to die when they so wish.
    It seems to me that you have overlooked two significant aspects to the right-to-die/assisted dying debate. Firstly, the ‘me that is me’ who is fundamentally altered due to disease, disfigurement, etc., may be a type of ‘death’ but it is also by the same token a new creation. Were an infant to be given the power of speech at birth, s/he might express profound dissatisfaction with the fact of their existence — with the cold and strangeness and pains and illnesses — but wouldn’t it be reasonable to advise them to wait awhile and reserve judgement until they have lived a little more? Although this is a somewhat trite observation, it may well be applied to those just beginning a new chapter due to life-changing illness. Perhaps, with time, what began as agony may be resolved into something more…rewarding.

    Secondly, and most importantly, you have failed to acknowledge that a person’s ‘right’ to die is not equivalent to — or a justification of — another person’s right to ‘murder’. You may want to die, but I still have no right to kill you. The agency of another in the assisted dying debate is a crucial factor to consider.

    • robinince says:

      the me that is me is merely describing the death of me. it has little to do with the right to die debate, it is merely definition on my death. Obviously my writing was shoddy and you have taken a new meaning.
      you have rightly put ‘murder’ in quotation marks, surely not murder if the victim has requested it?

      • philosophirish says:


        If by ‘murder’ we mean the unlawful killing of another, then I’m afraid that assisted dying is a murderous act. Current legislation does not condone such an act, so helping another to die is rightly defined in such a manner.

        I want to repeat that I am in favour of a person deciding to end their lives if they so choose. However, bringing the agency of another person into proceedings complicates the act. Legislating for acceptable scenarios when a person can end the life of another is fraught with difficulties and really should be at the heart of discussions around the general concept of assisted dying.

  45. This is a fascinating post. Bravo. I very much enjoyed reading it.

  46. I read all of the comments, and found them nearly as interesting as the blog itself! Good job. I am not decided on my views on this subject, however, I would not have thought about it today if it wasn’t for you!

    If this is what I’m going to find on Freshly Pressed, I’ll make sure to surf the archives for a while. Never hurts to look. \;


  47. Pingback: Linkspam me up, Scotty: feminism edition. « Consider the Tea Cosy

  48. Kiersten says:

    Very interesting post, and on a very interesting subject! We do give people the right/choice to die, although in a limited capacity. For instance, by allowing people to sign a “Do Not Resuscitate” order in the event that they code. Also when a person is on their deathbed, we allow morphine drips which not only decreases pain but often hastens death. I don’t know where I stand on this issue. I have have taken care of quadriplegic patients – some who are positive and cheerful, having in some way accepted their fate, and others who are angry and bitter. If they wanted to die but were unable to kill themselves… I don’t think I would be able to stand by and let that happen because life is precious, especially if we only have one life to live, even if the quality of life is light years from where we’d like it to be. But if I were in that same situation, I would want to be able to choose whether I lived or died. Sorry if my comment is repetitive! I did not read through all the other comments before posting. Again, great post!

  49. Pingback: Do You Want The Right To Die? | Read Stuff With Me

  50. Cathy says:

    Nicely put. I’d agree with pretty much everything you say 🙂

  51. Polly says:

    This is an excellent post, thank you.

    Decades ago, I looked after someone I loved who, when in their final illness, repeatedly expressed her wish to die. She was no stranger to pain – she’d lived with a debilitating condition for most of her life, and had done more wonderful things with that life, despite the constant pain, than most people do with perfect health – but those last years were pretty unspeakable. I was terrified in those last years that she’d ask me to help her die. She loved me enough that she didn’t ask me that, or put me in that position, and in the end, after a great deal of pain, stress and boredom, she died naturally, in hospital.

    Twenty years later, I looked after another person I loved, who spent some years gradually becoming more and more ill, to the point where her life was just miserable and painful. By the last couple of years she was in terrible pain, and she spent most of her last few months crying, and trying to scream. But she wanted to live, and I knew that, so i did everything in my power, constant arranging for medical intervention, doing everything I could to provide her with as comfortable and interesting a life I could. And her life was utterly, utterly horrible, absolutely unspeakably awful, but it was her life, and her choice. She, too, died in hospital, but there was nothing pretty or peaceful about those final months. The only time she stopped screaming was in the last few days, when it was clear that she had hours or days left, at most, and was finally allowed enough morphine to properly ease the pain.

    Having had that experience, and looking at the different choices of these two people that I loved, and who lived and died in pain, I have no hesitation in saying that, in the same circumstances, I’d want the choice to die when I wanted to, without years or months of agony, and without having to put the people I loved in the horrible position of watching me endure, unwillingly, a life I hated.

    (And I thought your point about “…availability of the choice of assisted dying offers relief. Knowing there is a way out does not mean you will take it.” was key. Knowing that there is an escape hatch, if one really needs it, really helps you cope with whatever current circs you are in.)

  52. Valerie Machin says:

    I became a member of Dignity in Dying ( following the death of my mother because I felt very strongly that no-one should suffer as she had. As some of the people who have posted here seem unclear as to what Dignity in Dying is proposing, I have taken the liberty of copying a little from the website so that there should be some clarity on what we stand for, that is ASSISTED DYING. (Please excuse the capital letters. I am not ‘shouting’ just trying to make it clear)

    “In line with public opinion, Dignity in Dying only advocates assisted dying – not assisted suicide, voluntary euthanasia or euthanasia.

    ASSISTED DYING (N.B. my capitalisation) (legalised and regulated in the US States of Oregon and Washington) only applies to terminally ill, mentally competent adults and requires the dying patient, after meeting strict legal safeguards, to self administer life-ending medication.

    Assisted suicide (permitted in Switzerland) allows assistance to die to chronically ill and disabled people who are not dying.

    Voluntary euthanasia (permitted in the Netherlands and Belgium) allows a doctor to administer the medication directly to the patient.

    Euthanasia is a term often used to describe life ending medication being administered by a third party, perhaps without the consent of the patient.”

    I hope that this will help to provide some information and reassurance about our proposals.. Please visit the website if you would like further information.

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