The reasons are many for moving into a retirement center while a person is healthy enough to enjoy the spa-like amenities. Nonetheless, Death is a permanent resident and is never completely hidden from view. Recently, a 101 year-old man at the center chose not only to acknowledge Death’s presence but to embrace it. In Oregon, someone who is the terminally ill or extremely old can choose suicide, provided they can administer the deadly cocktail to themselves.
In some countries, like Belgium, the law allows not only for assisted suicide but euthanasia. In the latter case, death is administered by someone other than the patient. No matter the method of exit, the presumption is the decision is a personal right. In June of this year, for example, a young woman, age 24, was allowed to commit suicide based on her argument that she had suffered from a long and debilitating depression that made life unbearable. (“How to Think About Your Right to Die,” by Elizabeth Soker Bruenig, New Republic, Sept/Oct, 2015 pg. 14) Such an early death in the eyes of some, like author Elizabeth Soker Bruenig, is an ethical perversion. The right to die, she argues is not equivalent to the right to life not only because the lives of other people are involved, but because a policy of death on demand undermines a respect for life. (Ibid pg. 15).
I’m unclear how Bruenig arrives at her conclusion. I do know there are arguments against it. In a time of war, a soldier who throws himself on a live hand grenade to save others is a deemed a hero. His life is anything but cheapened by its end. Each of us is under a sentence of death, after all, a reason, many would argue, why life is precious.
Habit, I think, makes us more comfortable with the idea that death should be left with governments rather than with individuals. According to the state, we have a right to die as result of war, or while attempting to stop or commit a crime, and as a punishment for a capital offense. But should a matter so personal rest with the state only? Should a person who wishes to die be denied a seat at the debate?
On either side of the argument, the consequences are dark. Forcing a person to endure pain, whether or not he or she wishes it, strikes me as cruel. On the other hand, I doubt any civil law can be drafted with enough prescience to adjudicate the rights and wrongs of death by choice in every case. For that reason, I suspect judgment shouldn’t be left to the law, alone. Perhaps it’s best to leave the tension between the state and the individual ambiguous. Society should object to the taking of a life, as proper and respectful to that life, but not criminalize the event. Ambiguity may be the best solution mortals can bring to this sad question of rights. As to God’s rights, I cannot speak to those.