If you could choose, what would make for a good death?


EXCERPT (Daniel Callcut): . . . The word ‘euthanasia’ comes from the Greek for a ‘good death’. However, this idea of a positively good death can easily be lost in contemporary debates [...] But my larger goal is to liberate discussion of the right to die from the medical settings in which it is now most familiar. To do so allows us to think about euthanasia – a good death – in less bleak circumstances.

We don’t ever, strictly speaking, get to experience death, as death is the end of experience. [...] But there’s no reason why death couldn’t be an event in the sense that a wedding is an event. ... You might not have many family or friends – or not want them there in any case. No doubt a company such as my fictitious ‘Designer Endings’ could provide staff for the ceremony you have in mind. ... People might look for inspiration from pagan festivals such as Burning Man in Nevada. Others would no doubt look to film and literature in designing the stage for their exit. Tastes, especially once allowed to flourish, would vary...

[...] We are not short of examples of imaginative funerals and creative posthumous plans. ... Traditional arguments for assisted suicide and euthanasia appeal to compassion and individual liberty. ... The value of individual liberty also points in favour of the right to end one’s life. The most central idea of liberal individualism is that your life is your own and that you have the right to live it as you see fit – you decide your job, your religion, whether you want your hair blue, and so on...

[...] John Stuart Mill argued that a free person had the right to do as he likes so long as he doesn’t harm other people. But surely, one might object, Mill’s ‘harm principle’ must outlaw euthanasia, for death is a harm. [...] It might be argued in response that, even if euthanasia involves killing, death isn’t always a harm. Perhaps to be alive in some situations is a fate worse than death, and death in such circumstances would be a benefit. Some might argue that allowing assisted suicide and yet not allowing euthanasia is unfair to those who are physically incapable of taking their own lives. Others might add that, in a free society, it should be left to individuals to decide what constitutes a harm or a benefit vis-à-vis their own lives. Finally – and this is perhaps the strongest rejoinder of all – it could be argued that the standard that matters in liberal societies is not harm but adult consent. If two or more adults are respecting each other’s freely given consent, then they should be able to do as they like.

Many of us already live in societies that allow consenting adults to harm one another: think about boxing, for example, and forms of BDSM sex that involve consensual injury. Consider, more mundanely, the sale and consumption of those sugary drinks we all know are harmful to health. It’s your life, as we say, it’s up to you. [...]

The idea of designer euthanasia naturally flows out of what many consider a positive development in the modern world – the enormous value placed upon free choice and the voluntary. The ideal of individual freedom has already overturned many social and sexual taboos: why not death? And if the worry is that legalising designer euthanasia would send everyone rushing to arrange their death, then I think we should worry about why we have this worry. Have we made life on Earth so dire that death presents a welcome alternative? Do we have to keep all appealing escape routes unavailable? The upshot of anxiety about the idea of Designer Endings should be to take greater responsibility for the social world that we have created. It’s undesirable, in a free society, to make people prisoners of existence.

But is the way forward to turn death into a marketplace? Many of us already live in business-obsessed cultures that threaten to turn life into one long sales pitch. [...] But if the idea of turning euthanasia into a business is what you find most objectionable about designer euthanasia, then think of Designer Endings as a cooperative nonprofit run by a group of friendly anarchists. The point, ultimately, is to liberate discussion of euthanasia from its standard medical context ... We can’t, for practical medical reasons, always take euthanasia away from doctors but it’s nonetheless worth thinking of how euthanasia might be liberated from medicine in the same way that, say, weddings have been liberated from religion...

[...] Discussions of the right to die tend to draw a distinction between negative rights and positive rights. So-called negative rights are simply rights to noninterference. A right to die, understood in this light as a negative right, is simply a right that requires others to keep out of your business. Positive rights, by contrast, are entitlements to active help...

[...] New freedoms and new abilities often generate new inequalities. Many will think that, if there is a right to die, then it is a negative right: simply a protected space for you to decide to end your life as you like without interference. Designer euthanasia, in such circumstances, could be legal – the question would then be, if you want it, can you afford it? Death, as the old saying goes, is the great leveller, and at least one of the insights packed into this expression is the thought that none of us gets to control when or how we die. But designer euthanasia would change this...

A free society ought to recognise one of the most basic freedoms of all: the freedom to die when one chooses. [...] We can think more expansively about what kinds of endings we might choose if given the social and political freedom to do so. ... Imagine a routine scan reveals that you have incurable cancer. ... Six weeks later – and after some quick planning – you are partying in a forest. ... The music pulses through your body for what will be the last time. You chat and hug with friends. You kiss your children. The sunlight turns golden through the trees. You experience the feeling of oneness with the Universe ... You are glad, as tears fill your eyes, that this is how you get to say goodbye. (MORE - details)
I wouldn't go for any kind of public celebration. I'd just want my loved ones around me as I quietly pass away in a bedroom somewhere with my fav music playing. That's assuming I will be dying of old age or something rather benign. If I die falling into the crocodile pond at the zoo, that would be a different matter altogether! Smile
Remember that scene in Fury where a tank crew member’s head disintegrates after taking an incoming round to the face....that would work. Over & done quickly, smashed to pieces with no time to think about anything. Put that in the category of ‘Not seeing it coming’.

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