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Why not kill yourself while you are still healthy?

Theodore Dalrymple
Theodore Dalrymple

In theory, at any rate, I am opposed to euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the like – except for myself, that is. Recently I was laid low by an illness among whose symptoms were slight nausea, fever and severe headache. It wasn’t even the worst illness I had ever had in my life, let alone the worst illness imaginable, but it was bad enough to preclude anything but lying in bed and feeling rotten. I could neither read nor eat; all I wanted to do was doze in a darkened room.

In between dozing – unconsciousness was a benison – my mind raced and the following thought occurred to me: suppose a doctor were to examine me and tell me that my condition would be fatal in three or six months, and that no improvement in my symptoms could expected in the meantime, how would I react?

I should unhesitatingly opt for death as soon as possible, for my condition was such as made life not worth living. I would be a burden to others without their care and attention being of any real benefit to me. I would merely be preventing them from getting on with their lives.

Now of course everything would depend upon the accuracy of the doctor’s prognosis. If he were mistaken, I might throw away my life for nothing. But let us assume that he is right: how could I have gone about procuring my death?

I happened to be in a seventh-floor flat at the time and was not so ill that I could not have dragged myself to the balcony and thrown myself off. The drawbacks of this method hardly need elaboration. I had no medicaments in my possession an overdose of which would have killed me. I suppose I could have refused to drink and thereby to have died of dehydration in a few days. But a doctor could have eased my passing no end.

What is to be set against all this? Mainly the argument from the slippery slope. Indeed, one might ask why only the dying should have the right to a good death, why not the healthy too if that is what they want? Why should the dying have all the best deaths?

What I want for myself, then, and what I want for society are different. I am not sure that I can resolve the contradiction.

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