joreth: (Misty Sleeping)

www.theage.com.au/interactive/2016/the-big-sleep/

I'm seeing this article making the rounds on FB. It's a story about a married couple at the end of their years choosing how to finish their life. Consider this your content warning both for the article and the rest of my comments.

For most of my life, I have never understood the desire for suicide. Death, or as [livejournal.com profile] tacit and my metamour call it, The Void, has always terrified me. I want any and all methods possible to prolong my life. I suppose I could be called a transhumanist, because I'm in favor of radical life extension. I want to live for hundreds, thousands of years. I want death to be *optional*.

And that's what makes me support this couple. I couldn't understand this decision until recently, but I also have always known that it was not my place to decide what was right for other people. Just because I couldn't imagine the sort of circumstances that would make someone embrace death doesn't mean that I would *never* understand that decision, and the thought of longing for death but being denied it was just as terrifying to me as the thought of dying itself.

I have been suicidal twice in my life. The first time, I was a very young teen. That teenager doesn't seem like me. I see her from the outside now. So I was unable to empathize with people who wanted to die, although I supported their right to choose on principle. The second time was much, much more recently, and it was after I discovered words like "transhumanism" and "radical life extension". This time, I was able to experience being in the mind of someone who longed for death and who wasn't able to understand people who wanted to go on living. Now I live with the memories of being both people in my head.

You might think that, having come (mostly) out of a suicidal depression, I would feel grateful that I stuck it out long enough to no longer wish for death, and to find life even more precious for those (and other) close brushes with death. But this makes me even more strongly in favor of the rights of assisted suicide. It's true, I'm glad that I did not have the opportunity to go through with it. Now. But I am even more convinced now that our approach to suicide is wrong. There are far too few resources to help people like me who are having an emotional imbalance, for whatever reason, get past it and learn how to embrace life, and there are far too many laws that are unable to distinguish between people like me and people like those in this article. These are not the same kinds of suicidal tendencies, but in both circumstances, the tendencies are treated the same - as a problem we have to legislate against. Instead of placing benches in the courtyard, we put up signs telling people not to sit on the planter.

These people made a rational decision that they considered from all angles for many, many years. They do not believe in an afterlife, which could (and often does) influence someone's desire to die by convincing them that there's something better waiting for them "on the other side". They had nothing to gain from their suicide, and plenty to lose - including their daughters, their freedom if it failed, their daughters' freedom if they were found guilty of assisting the suicides, but most importantly, they stood to lose that which frightened them more than death - a slow decline into pain and confusion.

I am no longer certain that I can face that kind of future with a stalwart, steadfast commitment to life borne of fear of The Void. I'd like to think that I still love life as ardently as before. But I can't fault them for their choice, and I can understand their fear better than I ever have before. I have always stood for making death optional because my goal is to live forever. But in making life optional, that requires making death itself a valid choice. As the unrelated saying goes, consent is meaningless if you can't say no. Making death optional doesn't mean very much if you can't choose that option when you want it.

Surprisingly, this article actually made me feel hopeful and optimistic. Yes, they died. But they died on their own terms, just as they lived on their own terms. We should all be so lucky.

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