Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Quality of Life

It would be interesting if the argument was taken up in America -- as it has in the Netherlands -- of the merits, the rightness or wrongness, of ending one's life deliberately because of age, frailty, medical problems, and tired of struggling with them. Tired of life.

This approach seems to have been taken by the US writer Hunter S Thompson who shot himself at his kitchen table this week. He was 67. He had, say his friends, medical problems and didn't relish the prospect of going on. Certainly one can say that a man like him -- the 'gonzo journalist' -- had a full life!

As is well-known, it is not a crime to commit (or 'perform' as some prefer to say) suicide. But when is it 'rational suicide' or 'self-deliverance' from a hopeless life situation? When you've had enough pain and distress, is it your own choice to leave? I think it is. Should the views of others prevail in your action? Well, that's a matter of individual circumstances and decision.

In 1978, a New York woman, Doris Portwood, wrote a ground-breaking book (Dutton, NY, out of print) called "Commonsense Suicide: The Final Right". In it, she was probably the first to set out the case for what she called 'balance-sheet suicide.' She suggested drawing up a list of one's reasons to live, and one's reasons to die. Doris took her own life many years later, in the l990s, when suffering from advanced Parkinson's Disease. She had seen her mother and sister die of this punishing disease, and refused to go the same way.

-- Derek Humphry,
president, Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization, Oregon, USA


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